Cape Town sees big increase in land invasions and protests – and other crime and safety trends you need to know

 ·27 Aug 2018

The City of Cape Town’s enforcement agencies made 12,063 arrests in the previous financial year – a 17% increase on the preceding period.

This is according to the Safety and Security Directorate’s annual statistics for the 2017/18 financial year which were released on Monday (27 August).

The Directorate consists of six departments that focus on public safety and includes the 107 Public Emergency Communication Centre; Disaster Risk Management Centre; Fire and Rescue Service; Metro Police Department; Law Enforcement Department and Cape Town Traffic Service.

According to the city, some of the key trends that have emerged from the safety and security landscape in the preceding 12 months are as follows.

Increase in land invasions and related protest action

Year-on-year there was a 53% increase in the number of land invasions recorded and a 249% increase in the number of protests.

“This resulted in a knock-on effect on planned enforcement operations for Law Enforcement, Metro Police and Traffic Services as resources had to be diverted to assist the South African Police Service in terms of public order policing, effecting road closures and diverting traffic etc,” the city said.

“Apart from the fact that other enforcement priorities were compromised, there was also the cost of damage to city infrastructure and resources like buildings and vehicles, as well as a financial impact due to overtime costs.”

The drought

From a Law Enforcement perspective, staff had to focus on transgressions of the Water By-law amid an increase in complaints from the public about water abuse, but also the very real threat to the city’s water supplies.

In terms of the Disaster Risk Management Centre, there was a significant drop-off in the number of persons affected by severe weather episodes as well as the need for disaster relief. Cape Town experienced just one operationally significant winter storm in the period under review and this is evident in the DRMC’s statistics for 2017/18.

“It is also worth noting that the Fire and Rescue Service recorded a 10% drop in vegetation fires during the period under review, which is most welcome, given the pressure we were under in terms of water supply,” the city said.

Instability in the public transport sector

There were numerous taxi-related strikes during the past 12 months that impacted on other sectors.

There was also a wage-related strike by bus operators and the ongoing service delays and arson attacks on Metrorail’s infrastructure are well documented. These disruptions took a toll on the affected commuters, but also placed additional strain on the road network and the enforcement staff whose duty it is to police transgressions.

“We recorded a 100% increase in the number of overloading offences in the public transport sector,” the city said.

“While there is no definitive proof, we cannot rule out the possibility that this might be a reflection of the battle that commuters have had and continue to have in getting to and from work, and the willingness of some operators to cash in on the instability in the sector – with no regard for the lives of their passengers.”

Ongoing gang violence

According to the city, there are at least 16 gang hotspots in Cape Town that experience a flare-up in violence on a regular basis.

“The Metro Police Department Gang and Drug Task Team, in association with the Law Enforcement Stabilisation Unit, devotes as much resources to these communities as possible, but resources are limited. It is important to note that the South African Police Service (SAPS) remains the primary agency responsible for tackling gang violence. The City acts in support of SAPS.

“That said, our enforcement statistics for the period under review are up, year-on-year.

“The Metro Police Department achieved a 19% increase in arrests and a 39% increase in the number of firearms recovered through targeted operations. There was also a notable increase in the number of public tip-offs about illegal activities. This is particularly encouraging, because it speaks to a growing trust in the City’s enforcement agencies.”

Increase in attacks on City staff and infrastructure

There have been numerous incidents in the past 12 months where city staff and infrastructure were targeted.

This includes the torching of the Gugulethu Fire Station by protestors. Just this weekend, firefighters were attacked while responding to a fire in Wallacedene.

“Criminals are becoming decidedly more brazen and are targeting staff for their firearms. The Metro Police Department noted a 180% increase in attacks on staff year-on-year, from 21 in 2016/17 to 59 in 2017/18.

“The result is that we have to reconfigure our deployment patterns and have more officers working in groups to ensure their safety,” the city said.

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