Nathi Mthethwa. Picture: SOWETAN
Nathi Mthethwa. Picture: SOWETAN

SOUTH Africa’s worst police district in terms of crime-related incidents is Mitchells Plain in the Western Cape.

According to the South African Police Service (SAPS), it was the country’s leading station by volume in contributing to the total of 1.8-million reported serious crimes in the 12 months to March.

Crime in the Western Cape — in particular gang violence in Mitchells Plain — has been at the centre of a continuing battle between the Democratic Alliance (DA)-controlled provincial government and Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa.

DA leader Helen Zille has called on the national government to deploy the army in the gang-swept Cape Flats to try and bring the violence under control. She also wanted to institute a commission of inquiry into the high crime rate in the area but this has been fiercely resisted by Mr Mthethwa.

Ms Zille said gang violence spikes were a policing and security issue. "Only the SAPS has the power to undertake collecting evidence, affecting arrests and ensuring convictions in court," she said in a statement late last month.

Mr Mthethwa maintains that the police are doing their job and there is a need to continue building police stations in the Western Cape because of gang violence and drug abuse. "We have pointed out that what we are confronted with in this province is a 200-year-old deep-seated legacy that cannot be eradicated by police alone," he said in a speech at the opening of the Lentegeur Police Station in Mitchells Plain last month.

The only solace the beleaguered residents of Mitchells Plain can take from the latest crime statistics — while the politicians fight it out among themselves — is that at least there was a 3.7% decrease in the number of cases reported at the station, although at 20,034 cases a year, or nearly 55 cases a day, that is cold comfort. It underscores the theme of yesterday’s crime statistics: there was, overall, a small or in many instances, a marginal change in crime levels over the last year.

"Nearly 20 years since freedom, violent crime is still unacceptably high and it is the poorest who are often affected worst," Agang SA political director Moeketsi Mosola said in a statement.

DA shadow minister of police Dianne Kohler Barnard said that for the second year in a row the SAPS has failed to reassure the country that it is winning the war against crime.

"Meagre incremental decreases are hardly solace for those who continue to live in fear," she said.

That the murder rate was up for the first time in five years was devastating, she said.

According to the SAPS, there were 650 more murders last year than the previous year. There was also a 6.5% increase to 16,363 in the number of attempted murders.

Mr Mthethwa said the increases in murders and attempted murders were due to various factors such as alcohol, faction fights in rural areas and domestic violence. It also had to do with the increased number of protests which is racking the country, especially in the platinum belt in North West province.

National police commissioner Riya Phiyega said the police had to deal with 1,886 unrest-related protests during the year and an additional 10,517 peaceful protests. "The escalating number of public unrest also draws local members conducting basic policing to support public policing and strains resources," she said.

Mr Mthethwa said the public protests were increasingly characterised by violence. "That has diverted the police from their core policing and operational matters." The police are determined to ensure that the murder rate returns to its downward trend experienced over the past nine years, he said.

Institute of Security Studies director of the governance, crime and justice cluster Gareth Newham said the increase in serious and violent crimes shows government’s approach to crime is not working.

"The good news is that trends are still going down, but at the moment the crimes that really drive fear — street robberies, house robberies and car hijackings — have all gone up."

Mr Newham said the SAPS needs stable leadership that understands policing. "In particular, you need to make sure that crime intelligence is operating as effectively as possible."

Ms Kohler Barnard said that during the 2010 Soccer World Cup, the SAPS illustrated that it had the capacity and ability to significantly lower crime levels. It has "failed to recapture this achievement".

The focus now for Gen Phiyega is to bring the overall trend in crime back to its downward trajectory. For her to achieve that, she said, is going to require a collective effort from all South Africans, and not just the SAPS.