Despite the fact that Khayelitsha in Cape Town, South Africa, has a notoriously high crime rate, it has grossly inadequate policing. The injustice of this is highlighted by the fact that the ten safest suburbs in Cape Town, with an average murder rate of six per 100,000 people, have one police officer for every 232 residents. Yet Khayelitsha, and other equally dangerous suburbs and townships, with an average murder rate of 84 per 100,000 people, has only one police officer for every 1,153 residents.
A coalition of civil society organisations, known as the Social Justice Coalition (SJC), began the arduous task of fixing the inequitable policing in Khayelitsha. After almost a decade of work and mobilisation, the O’Regan-Pikoli Commission of Inquiry was initiated, and in 2014, recommendations were made to ensure equitable resource allocation, the implementation of an anti-vigilantism strategy and the certainty of visible policing in informal settlements.
The Commission’s recommendations also prompted the appointment of a new Cluster Commander for Khayelitsha, who invited the SJC, Ndifuna Ukwazi, Equal Education, other community-based organisations and provincial and city government departments into a joint forum with the police.
As one of the first forums of its kind, it is using participation in the form of subforums to chart new ways of addressing policing inequality. The subforums deal with vigilantism, alcohol and drug abuse, road safety, youth gangs, business crime, and violence against women and children.
The Commission also represented a crucial turning point in South Africa in terms of changing the legacy of the apartheid police force. It is providing a way to effect long term, systemic change in the criminal justice system, particularly in poor and working class areas.
The Commission’s recommendations are both practical and system-changing and, as their implementation gets underway, have shown how they have radically altered the nature of participatory government in the sphere of safety, policing, and justice. It has also become clear that its recommendations require participation in areas such as school safety, provision of adequate street lighting and gang prevention.
Remedying more than 350 years of police inefficiency, mismanagement, brutality and incompetence will be the work of more than another decade – however, we’ve made a constructive start. By laying the legal foundation for working with government to address the police service, we’re steadily working towards ensuring that all people enjoy the rights to life, security, and dignity.