WHO IS ETHEKWINI MUNICIPALITY AT WAR WITH?

In South Africa a Casspir is, above all, a symbol of the brutal repression by the apartheid state of pro-liberation resistance in the townships in the 1980s, in which thousands of lives were lost. eThekwini municipality has now announced that it has purchased four of these vehicles, at a cost of R20 million, in order for its municipal police to deal with riot situations in the Metro, which presumably include protest action. The decision to deploy military-type vehicles in this manner sends a strong message that, like the apartheid government, the municipality is at war with its own citizens.
In terms of the governing legislation the job of Metro police forces is to (a) implement by-laws and regulations (b) police traffic violations and (c) prevent crime. Although members are peace officers they must hand over anyone they arrest to the SAPS. Is the municipality now arguing that it can prevent crime by the use of Casspirs? It is the South African Police Services which is constitutionally mandated to, among other things, combat crime and ‘to maintain public order…….and to uphold and enforce the law ‘ (Section 205(3). In accordance with the principle of co-operative governance, the Metro police may – and often do – engage in joint actions with the SAPS. It is the SAPS which has the components trained and equipped to maintain public order so there is no reason whatsoever for the Metro police to acquire vehicles of this type.
Of particular relevance is the nature of many protests. In 2016, as during other election periods, the worst protests in eThekwini, in terms of disruption and damage to property, were related to the selection of candidate councillors. Widespread destruction characterised such events in Folweni and the KwaMashu/northern city access areas – and also elsewhere in the province.
Service delivery lies behind many protests, for understandable reasons. Politicians make promises and raise expectations which are not met, and there is a lack of engagement and consultation with constituencies. The municipality has done away with housing lists and works on an opaque ‘priority’ award system in which there is no transparency around allocation. Councillors become involved in decisions about housing, dispensing patronage for votes. The municipality dishes out obscene amounts of money to favoured tenderpreneurs, who often build substandard housing which needs further maintenance. It should be assisting unemployed residents of shack areas with skills and employment to upgrade their living areas, or providing them with site and-service-land on which to build. As long as this unjust system prevails protests will continue. Protests are a symptom of bad governance.
To make matters worse, the Metro police is a bitterly divided force lacking coherent leadership. During the past five years a number of serious internal problems have been reported; these include members owning taxis, the disappearance of hundreds of police guns, and the open flouting of the law by police members. Recent alarming reports reveal that there are currently 1000 vacancies in the Metro force and that dedicated members are without resources to undertake crime prevention operations.
eThekwini has become notorious for ignoring warnings from Treasury about belt tightening. It reflected R1,2 billion in irregular expenditure in its 2015/16 audit, and regressed from a ‘clean’ to an ‘unqualified’ status. Instead of using the R20 million for service delivery, and the employment and equipping of Metro police, it has decided to splurge it on military vehicles. The intra-ANC factionalism in KZN extends to eThekwini Metro, and examples are also given of Metro police partisanship. In December 2016 the SACP, who have lost a number of supporters in Ntshanga – the home of former mayor James Nxumalo – claimed that the Metro police were acting as a private army for the ANC in the area. The current mayor is on record as wanting an ‘army base’ in Durban. Is this proposed acquisition of military vehicles part of some wider sinister plan?
It must be emphasised that there is no good reason whatsoever for spending R20 million on four Casspirs for a force which is understaffed, under-resourced and in a state of disarray – especially as it is not their job, but that of the South African Police Service, to maintain public order. An immediate review by provincial government of this proposed acquisition must take place with a view to halting it.