Helen Zille writes:
Before the recent political uproar over Zuptagate, two brutal murders in very different contexts dominated public conversation in the Western Cape.
Sinoxolo Mafevuka (19) and Franziska Blöchliger (16) were both found brutally murdered and raped in separate incidents.
Yesterday, on Human Rights Day, I thought the issues raised by these two murders worth revisiting.
Securing the right to safety is a primary responsibility of government.
Sinoxolo was found dead on March 1, half naked in a public toilet in Khayelitsha near the shack where she lived with her family. She was found with her head pushed into the toilet bowl.
Franziska had been running in the Tokai Forest on March 7 – a week after Sinoxolo – when she was attacked, gagged, beaten and raped, allegedly by three men who took her cell phone before abandoning her body in the bushes.
There have been arrests in both cases, although in Sinoxolo’s case this took longer than Franziska’s.
Both murders, equally brutal, occasioned great suffering by those close to the victims.
The shock ran particularly cold through Franziska’s community, unused to incidents of that type. Her school was closed for a day, so that distraught friends and family could lay wreaths near the site of the tragedy. Tokai forest is a popular recreational area, not normally associated with murder, but now in need of additional security measures.
Sinoxolo’s murder happened in an entirely different context in Harare, Khayelitsha. Harare has consistently been in the metro’s top 10 precincts with the highest rates of murder and attempted murder. This does not detract in any way from the tragedy of Sinoxolo’s death (and every other death), nor the devastating loss experienced by surviving loved ones.
But, I have learnt, frequency is one of the factors that informs newsworthiness for the media. A rare and unexpected occurrence is usually considered more newsworthy than a more regular, though equally tragic, occurrence.
That may be one of the factors that accounted for the disproportionate amount of media attention accorded to Franziska’s murder in comparison to Sinoxolo’s.
Enter the Deputy Minister of Police, Maggie Sotyu, whose attempt to address this imbalance between the handling of the two murders did more harm than good. She stormed into a meeting with the Khayelitsha police, accusing them (in the presence of the media) of fostering racism by their failure to arrest Sinoxolo’s alleged murderers sooner.
She alleged the SAPS were prioritising Franziska’s case because she was murdered in Tokai – a more affluent part of the City.
Looking more closely at each case from the media reports, the Tokai community descended in force on the forest, and Franziska’s family hired private investigators to work with SAPS, backed by a R50 000 reward. The ability to track a missing iPhone was also pivotal. Arrests were made within 24 hours of the discovery of Franziska’s body.
Police were struggling more in Khayelitsha, where on 14 March, a full 2 weeks after Sinoxolo’s murder, two suspects were finally arrested following an informant’s lead on their nicknames. There was no cell phone to assist the investigation, no private investigators, and no significant community mobilisation. The police were on their own.
Deputy Minister Sotyu’s public attack, in full glare of the media, was directed at Khayelitsha cluster commander Johan Brand, who has done an enormous amount of work with his colleagues to turn around an almost completely dysfunctional policing precinct in the past few years. They have made significant progress.
They have co-operated fully to implement the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry into policing in Khayelitsha, handed down by Judge Kate O’Regan and Advocate Vusi Pikoli in August 2014. General Brand’s commitment to improved policing for Khayelitsha is starting to make a significant difference, and this is reflected in the growing confidence of the community in the police in the area.
Since the beginning of his tenure there have been no more gruesome necklace murders, and there has been a marked overall decline in vigilantism, a sign of improving trust in the police to catch and successfully prosecute criminals.
It is instructive to compare this co-operative response with that of the National Government, who did everything possible to prevent the Commission from investigating policing in Khayelitsha (all the way to the Constitutional Court), and then ignored the Commission’s recommendations.
What is more, Deputy Minister Sotyu is well aware of how under-resourced the Harare Police Precinct is. Where Sinoxolo’s murder took place, there are 878 citizens to one police officer, compared to the national average of 358 citizens to one police officer. We have been urging the national government for years to rectify this. Only they have the power to do so.
The Western Cape precincts with some of the highest rates of violent crime nationally, such as Nyanga and Khayelitsha, also have some of the lowest police to population ratios in the country. Is this resourcing differential between provinces a coincidence? One suspects not.
But, apart from urging a reprioritisation of manpower allocation, the Western Cape Government can do little about the situation because policing is a National Government competency. The Provincial Government only has oversight powers.
We feel that Deputy Minister Sotyu’s anger, as understandable as it might have been, was misdirected.
We suggest that she channel her fury into more productive channels by:
- Providing the trained police officers needed to bring the police to population ratio down to manageable levels;
- Improving visible policing in informal neighbourhoods;
- Releasing crime statistics more regularly at station level; and
- Giving Detective Services the support they need to be more efficient.
Policing in Khayelitsha is not easy. As General Brand explained in one of the many radio interviews he conducted following the Deputy Minister’s attack on him, the fluidity of faces and names in some of Khayelitsha’s rapidly changing communities can make leads hard to follow, and witnesses at times weigh the risk of sharing their testimony against a very real fear of criminal retribution.
While communities and the Western Cape Government can do their best to support the fight against crime, the power to adequately resource policing operations on the ground rests with the National Department, with Minister Nathi Nhleko and Deputy Minister Sotyu. They should turn the mirror on themselves.
Their failure to provide sufficient police officers, training and resources to Khayelitsha’s three precincts, as well as the many other gang hotspots where most violent crimes and drug trafficking occur, becomes harder to justify with every passing day.
Politically expedient grand-standing does not offer long term solutions.
It’s just more of the same from a compromised leadership at the helm of one our captured state institutions, increasingly compromising the right to safety of others through their words and actions.
The crisis of crime in parts of Khayelitsha will not be solved by attacking the very people in the forefront of trying to resolve the problem.