The release of the latest annual SAPS crime statistics confirmed what South Africans already knew: Violent crime is out of control, with a daily average of 57 murders country-wide, 12 of which are in KwaZulu-Natal. Shortly before these figures were released, a local, much-loved musician, Simon Milliken, was stabbed, and left to die, in a Durban nature reserve. Milliken’s death, like so many others, is an indictment of the poor governance and the gross mismanagement of policing which are key contributing factors to rising levels of violent crime. Simon Milliken’s death, like so many others, should not be in vain, but should serve as a wake-up call to SAPS and eThekwini management to get their houses in order in preventing and responding to violent crime.
THE LACK OF PREVENTIVE CRIME STRATEGIES
Simon Milliken and a visiting conductor of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra, Mr Perry So were watching birds in the Burman Bush nature reserve during the afternoon of 31 August when they were confronted by an armed man demanding their valuables. They fled in different directions after Milliken had refused to comply with the assailant’s demands, and Milliken’s body was found the following morning. He had been stabbed and had died of his injuries. Prior to this incident it was well known that there had this reserve had been plagued by muggings because it was easily accessed by criminals through gaping holes in the fence. There is evidence – including that gathered by a committee researching farm violence in the early 2000s – that criminals who get away with committing less serious crimes may end up killing people. It should have been obvious that it was only a matter of time before someone was seriously injured, raped and/or killed, but the eThekwini municipality had taken no steps to restrict access by repairing the fencing and ensuring that there were trained security personnel on duty during visiting hours. There were not even any operative Flying Squad or Metro police numbers in the reserve’s office, which had the telephone number of the Westville SAPS and not those of stations much nearer. Nor, despite its status as a crime ‘hot spot’ is there any evidence of any effective crime prevention strategy on the part of police stations under which the reserve falls.
SERIOUS QUESTIONS ABOUT SAPS RESPONSE
The response by the SAPS following the initial report during the late Friday afternoon that Milliken was missing is shocking – particularly as it appears from autopsy results that he would have remained alive, and possibly in great pain, for an unknown period following the stabbing.
When, after a considerable delay, police arrived at the reserve they appeared ill-equipped for searching in the fading light, and, for some inexplicable reason they did not bring dogs to assist with the search, despite both SAPS and Metro police having K9 units. They seemed reluctant to search in the dark and announced they would return at daybreak. They did not do so. On the following morning, sometime after 07h00 John Roome and his wife were walking in the reserve when they found Milliken’s body. They notified the reserve office personnel who telephoned Westville SAPS who in turn reported the matter to Durban Central SAPS. Their response was fairly prompt, but they said that since the area fell under Mayville SAPS that station should be called (they did not have notebooks and had to rummage in the bag of the deceased for a paper and pencil). None of the police who attended the scene knew about the SAPS having been called the previous evening to search for the missing man. The official SAPS response – that the Search and Rescue Unit had responded and searched the area until very late on the Friday, and had returned to the scene at first light the following day, subsequent to which the body had been found, has been contradicted by those present on the Friday night and Saturday morning – which begs questions about the accuracy of public information provided by the SAPS. However, encouragingly there as been a positive response to detailed questions sent to SAPS management, and senior police members have been appointed to investigate the complaint. The police have also clarified that one of the problems that the police searching the area faced late on the Friday afternoon was that there is more than one entrance to the reserve, and they had not been given sufficiently accurate information about which entrance had been used, and which paths had been taken, by the deceased and his companion. To complicate matters further, the top end of the reserve (i.e. near North Ridge Road) falls under one policing jurisdiction, and the other end, which is nearer to the centre of Durban, falls under another.
THE WAY FORWARD
While the circumstances surrounding the death of Simon Milliken have been used as an example, his is by no means the only death which could probably have been prevented had policing been functioning effectively. In July twelve taxi drivers were massacred while travelling in the Weenen area. It is alleged that police management had been warned about the likelihood of this attack but had not followed up on the information. It is all very well for the National Minister and Commissioner to express outrage at rising crime levels, but little is likely to change without a shake-up of management, and a complete revamp of crime intelligence and detective services. The question is, do they have the will to do away with the nepotism which leads to promotion beyond competence levels and political interference in policing?
Nor should the culpability of the eThekwini municipality be overlooked. Since Milliken’s death It has moved rapidly to secure the reserve with fencing and better guarding, but why did it take a murder for it to act? Burman reserve is not the only one in Durban in which there are realistic concerns about the safety of visitors and those using paths next to roads outside of fenced areas, which should be cleared of vegetation to stop people scaling fences. Earlier this year the headless body of a woman was found inside the fence in Pigeon Valley, Glenwood. Neighbouring paths used by pedestrians are overgrown with vegetation, making it easy for a body to be disposed of this way – and endangering the safety of all those walking past the reserve, including university students. These concerns can easily be addressed by ensuring that fencing is adequate to ensure controlled access, and the deployment of well-trained, properly vetted, guards who can immediately access emergency assistance from nearby police.
The suggestion from eThekwini municipality that CCTV cameras be installed in nature reserves is ridiculous, given the nature of the terrain. These cameras have served little purpose in preventing violence in the Glebelands hostel complex, and the Passenger Rail Service cameras have not worked for the past three years. There are serious questions about whether those who monitor them are themselves trustworthy. The tendency of the municipality to resort to the use of CCTV cameras when there are better ways of fighting crime also raises questions about who is benefitting from the procurement process.
While the response of the municipality is ‘better late than never’ its failure to act before someone was killed suggests its priorities are badly skewed. These areas are vital ‘green lungs’ for Durban and should be integral to providing environmental education for young people. Perhaps the mayor should earmark some of the millions of rand she is squandering on dubious projects which are unlikely to lead to anything of lasting value for ensuring that all of Durban’s green areas are safe for everyone, and for educating youth about the value of their environmental heritage.
KZN Monitor would like to thank SAPS management for losing no time in launching an investigation into the failure of the police to initiate crime prevention strategies in the area and their tardy and uncoordinated response to the report that Milliken was missing after a criminal attack. Hopefully the death of Simon Milliken will lead to action which prevents further criminal incidents in the beautiful green areas in Durban