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ImageSouth African Minister of Safety and Security Charles Nqakula spoke of the challenges facing his country’s security forces during a recent visit to London and outlined his plans to increase safety and security in South Africa.

Speaking recently to a group of key representatives of South Africans in London, Minister Nqakula delivered a candid assessment of the security situation in South Africa. “South Africa belongs to all communities who live side by side,” he said. “But, as long as there are gated communities that cannot claim the streets, we cannot claim to have dispensed with what is ugly.”

When one talks about a better life for everyone in South Africa, the Minister said, “It means that all those who were disadvantaged before must enjoy a better life and richer South Africans must be given the freedom to enjoy being South Africans.”

Merging the interests of all the people means creating a country where everyone will feel a sense of belonging. “In South Africa there will always be democracy, always be respect for human rights and everyone will have access to justice and a better life.”

The Miracle is Still Young

While not seeking to minimize the country’s challenges, the Minister pointed out that although South Africa is seen as a giant in Africa, the new South Africa is only 13 years old. “As a democracy, we are the new kid on the block,” he said. “But South Africa’s perception of being a miracle gives rise to expectations that the country can wave a wand and everything will be a miracle.”

South Africa’s police force was established in 1995 and was the result of a merger between 11 disparate forces from the apartheid era, each with their own levels of training and attitudes to policing. The first five years was focused on creating a unified force with a shared understanding; no easy feat as it entailed bringing together guerillas who had struggled against apartheid with the very forces they had been fighting. According to the Minister, the reality is that South Africa’s modern police service is only 7 years old.

Nqakula is not blasé about crime in his country. “Crime levels are high in South Africa. Since 1994, they have been coming down but they are high. Some of these crimes are accompanied by extraordinary violence.”

However, public perception of the crime situation in the country is not always accurate, he argued. In terms of the types of crime that take place in the country, Nqakula spoke of two categories; ‘social’ and organized crime. Those under the category of ‘social’ – 80% of the serious crimes reported, according to a recent survey – involve people from within the same social environment and are frequently fuelled by drugs and alcohol. Reducing this type of crime, far harder to police than the organized variety, needs the support of communities and one of the Minister’s objectives is creating a new type of community policing where community members work in partnership with the security services in identifying crime. “We have been trying to deal with the mindset,” he said. “We have a partnership now with religious leaders and we want people to participate in a change of mindset programme; the only way that social crime can be dealt with.”

The programme will involve creating Community Police Forums, training ‘reservists’ in the community and working with them to determine key priorities for security and reviewing outcomes. “We believe that where the system is working fully, crime will be reduced considerably in South Africa,” he said. Reservists will help to increase the visibility of police, while mounted roadblocks, 24-hour patrols and cordoned and search operations will all serve to bring down street crime.

Organized crime, which represents about 20% of the crime reported, is an area where the police service can and is being proactive, said the Minister, and eliminating informal settlements and squatter camps is a priority. “The informal settlements are a haven for criminals and undocumented and unemployed illegals, some of whom were in the security forces or were guerillas and therefore know how to use weapons. We have introduced and are using technology to maximum effect on organized crime.” The new forensic technology available to the police, he added, has also helped to track and arrest the suspects.

Charles Nqakula

Nqakula’s background is perfectly suited to his task. Originally a journalist, Charles Nqakula became a member of the Union of Black Journalists and was elected Vice-President of the Union in 1976. The Union was banned in October 1977 as part of the apartheid government crackdown on organisations supporting the Black Consciousness Movement. He was placed under a banning order in 1981, which the authorities revoked in 1982 because the village he lived in fell into Ciskei, which became independent in 1981. Nqakula was declared a prohibited immigrant and was unable to enter South African territory.

Frequently detained either by the South African or Ciskeian authorities, he started Veritas News Agency in Zwelitsha towards the end of 1982 and was elected Publicity Secretary of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in 1983. By this time Nqakula was an underground operative for the ANC, specialising in propaganda and in 1984, he left South Africa and travelled to Lesotho, Tanzania and Zambia. He underwent military training in Angola, the Soviet Union and East Germany, later infiltrating South Africa as one of the commanders of Operation Vula, with a mission to build viable underground and military structures. After serving as Commander in the Western Cape (1988), Nqakula emerged from the underground when he was granted amnesty by Government in 1991 and was elected Deputy General Secretary of the SACP (1991), and subsequently the party's General Secretary following the assassination of Chris Hani in 1993. In 1984, after his election to the National Executive Committee of the ANC, he was Parliamentary Counsellor to the President until January 2001, when he was appointed Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, before his transfer to his present Ministry.

Building Management Capacity

In 2006, South Africa’s security services established for the first time a partnership with big business to tackle organized crime and armed robbery. This partnership has already borne fruit in crime prevention as well as the arrest of more than nine thousand ‘hardened’ criminals who had been involved in over 17,000 criminal cases.

South Africa’s commitment to tackling crime is evident through the allocation of financial resources to Nqakula’s Ministry. The budget allocated to his portfolio will increase from 35 billion to 42 billion rand over the next three years. “No other Department has these resources, which shows how keen we are to address this issue,” he said.

A key challenge for Nqakula is building management capacity and an effective management and control and command within the Police Service. Earlier in the year, the Minister announced that an evaluation of the country’s police stations had revealed that while a good number of the station commissioners were excellent police officers, many were poor managers. “The need for better management and performance demanded a review of the organisational structure of the police,” he said. As a result, local stations have been empowered with more human and material resources, while a management and performance tool has been developed by the police to track how stations are managed and policing resources and service is delivered.

The new performance management system has revealed that 84% of all serious crimes take place within 169 out of over 1000 police station areas. The resulting changes in police station staff and management as well as an increased police presence and 10,000 new recruits each year will drastically reduce crime, says the Minister. In addition, the introduction of a new parole system and community service to reduce the incarceration of petty criminals will increase prison space for hardened criminals.

“We have always believed that we need to create conditions for peace and stability, not just for South Africa but for Africa,” says Nqakula. With the 2012 World Cup shining a spotlight on South Africa and with the country’s desire to encourage its citizens overseas to return home, Minister Nqakula and his team are determined to ensure that South Africa is a country that is seen as safe and secure for both investment and social progress.

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