*This article by Ian Cameron was first published on PoliticsWeb on 26 July 2021
South African communities are on their own when it comes to fighting crime. People can challenge me saying this, but 58 murders per day and a looted economy in less than a week, not even mentioning corruption, is enough to prove state incompetence.
Just a small disclaimer before you continue reading, the Western Cape Government is the only provincial government entity that has stepped forward to drastically strengthen community safety efforts despite the lacking national government (specifically the ANC) support by means of the South African Police Service (SAPS).
Never has it been more important for communities from all spheres of life in South Africa to organise themselves to be able to mobilise against the mammoth crime threat the country faces.
The looting mayhem of less than two weeks ago was nothing new, it was just the first-time individual destructive elements united in an orchestrated symphony of chaos.
We know the police have not been ready for such events for years now. Without diving into tactical catastrophes made during the looting spree, supply chain management and logistics in the South African Police Service struggle to even make sure cops have enough ammunition for basic daily tasks.
Did you know the South African Police Service used to have an annual training shoot, that has been changed to once every 5 years after the recent national ammunition shortage in police ranks. In fact, some cops had to buy their own ammunition to make sure they could work on the streets where their services are so direly needed.
I honestly believe the police are in some cases scared of another Marikana, but what happened just more than a week ago during the looting crisis makes many members and especially police leadership complicit.
Even though there are thousands of good members in blue, a compromised, corrupt state security cluster under non-existent leadership cannot be expected to lead in upholding law and order.
After what happened less than two weeks ago, during what some have called an insurrection, failed coup attempt or just pure criminality, Action Society was flooded with calls from people wanting to know how they can organise themselves within the framework of legislation against criminal threats. We have made a strategic decision to assist communities with enquires digitally where possible as the dire need for better organised communities throughout the country is so blatantly obvious.
Some communities have organised themselves after facing danger, but would now like to formalise efforts. There is no better way to safeguard communities than through organised community structures.
So what can you do to legally safeguard yourself, your family and your community against violent and even petty crime in South Africa?
We have compiled this short guide for you to get started in the process of really stepping up in safeguarding your community.
You should always start by finding out whether there are any community safety structures like farm- or neighbourhood watches or Community Police Forum’s (CPF) in your area and what it would entail to join them. It is important to remember that all structures are allowed to act autonomously and a healthy relationship with each other and local law enforcement would obviously be beneficial.
In my opinion one structure should never have the monopoly on your security and even less so the state, we must take responsibility for a sustainable and secure future. The more law-abiding citizens take part in different legal crime prevention campaigns, the better for us all.
If you have the ability, join the patrol group and whether they are static or mobile, take part in patrols. Community patrols are highly effective, especially when they are done in a variety of ways. People often have the impression that community members walk, cycle and drive around aimlessly and that it is a pointless exercise.
Random patrols like the above mentioned, may have some impact but could be slightly limited, but when communities start developing an information network through which they can predict trends and identify hot spots, they really can stop crime before it happens.
This has even assisted police that have lacking crime intelligence capacity in many parts of the country and by doing this, communities can often provide important information to police for them to hopefully act on.
Make sure that if you do take part in patrols, that you are not on your own. Always have at least one other person with you; two is always better than one.
Ensure that you are part of the community’s communication channels, like WhatsApp or others. If there is no communication channel available, enquire about different technologies that can be used. WhatsApp is a cheap option that can often be successfully used by all communities. Obviously it could be beneficial, if finances allow it, to establish a well-structured radio network of some sort, push-to-talk (PTT) technology is simplifying this nationally already.
Ensure that you take note of what is communicated on the communication network and do not share anything that has not been verified. We do not need fake news to cause further panic. It could be helpful to co-operate with other well established community safety groups to broaden the accurate communication effort.
It is also wise to dominate and update channels and networks with accurate, verified information, even when it is just to confirm that things are okay, this should be seen in context during times of large scale unrest.
If you have a firearm for self-defence, carry it with you and make sure you comply with legal requirements.
During times of unrest, it is very important to avoid any unnecessary travel in the unstable region. Obviously, there are often some basic errands that need to be run and tasks completed and one must mitigate threats accordingly. People living in areas where conflict intermittently flares up should especially adhere to this.
That being said, a well organised community structure that really has the support and buy-in of the majority of law-abiding citizens in that community, deter public violence and other crimes just through their exaggerated public presence in the more high-risk areas.
If you really must travel and there is unrest in your area, make sure to use roads and routes where there is no debris or other obstruction. Be on the lookout for buildings or any other objects that might be on fire and avoid those areas.
If you could in any way be of help to the police or other emergency services, please offer your help. Remember, help could be something as simple as a glass of water or a cup of coffee.
If you can protect yourself, you can protect your family. If you can protect your family, you can protect your neighbours. If neighbours can protect each other, a community can be protected.
Keep your heads up, we have no alternative – we rebuild and keep building.
If you have any enquiries of where to start with a community safety initiative, email Action Society, at communitysafety@actionsociety.