THERE is no doubt that crime affects everyone; however, there are certain sections of the population that are more vulnerable and therefore need to be better protected through interventions and programmes.
Creating partnerships that will foster the development of efficient interventions to protect vulnerable groups such as women, children, people with disabilities and those living in informal settlements, was the focus of discussions at the Florida Be Safe Centre on 12 September.
Joburg residents and City officials gathered to thrash out these and other issues as part of the themed Community Safety Week of the Growth and Development Strategy (GDS), which will run until 17 September.
“Each of us has been a victim of crime at some stage,” said Florence Mnisi from the City’s central strategy unit. “We have all been vulnerable; today we would like you to share your experiences and tell us how you think the City should move forward.”
And tell the City how it should move forward the participants did.
The day’s consultative session was facilitated by independent consultant Dr Barbara Holtmann and Nomfundo Mogapi from the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR). But the discussion was driven predominantly by community members eager to see a safer society for themselves and future generations.
“You are going to have to work hard today,” Holtmann said. “You’re not here to listen; you are here to talk. We want to use as much of today as possible for positive, constructive discussion.”
Positive discussion can only come from identifying key challenges though, and some of the major obstacles to safety that emerged were the fact that access to appropriate structures was not even-handed and that it was easier for some people’s voices to be heard than others; that there was a lack of response to resident’s complaints; and that communities had lost faith in law enforcement agencies such as the Johannesburg metropolitan police department.
Accessibility to the right people in the appropriate enforcement organisations is a particular problem, especially with regard to migrants. One resident, a Nigerian migrant, felt everybody should be given equal grounds to give their inputs.
However, since this was often not happening, migrants were also pinpointed as a vulnerable group that the City needed to consider in its interventions.
Providing feedback about whether people’s complaints had been attended to and about what programmes were in place to fight crime were also identified as challenges, since communities were unaware of what was being done to protect them.
“We acknowledge that there are lots of challenges,” Mogapi said. “The country’s crime statistics have just been released, and they show that there has been a decrease in crime in Gauteng so the City must be doing something right.
“Crime is still a problem, though,” she said.
Holtmann warned against falling into a negative pattern of thought when considering crime and ways to deal with it. “We cannot start from the assumption that the City does not want to make it work. This gathering is a clear indication that it does,” she said.
Fighting this scourge is, for that reason, of paramount importance to every resident. Suggestions on the best ways for entire communities to play their part in collaboration with the City included that the City should work more with community newspapers and radio stations, that the City should put up more street lights, and that management should come down to workers’ levels to see what they had to deal with.
Community newspapers are free, which means they reach a larger audience. Logically, if more people know about what interventions are in place and what they can do to play their part, more people will get involved.
Siyabonga James, from the Roodepoort police youth crime prevention desk, suggested that further participation could be garnered through community newspapers by delivering them to informal settlements and the homeless.
“This is an opportunity to dig deep and find innovative solutions. What we must not do is more of what hasn’t worked,” Holtmann said. Further solutions put forward were decentralisation, especially in terms of the City’s call centre, Joburg Connect, which makes use of one number to contact all departments or municipal-owned entities.
Residents felt that the use of the one-number call centre was actually a hindrance to crime-fighting as callers often had to wait for long periods before they get through to the relevant people. Suggestions of implementing email and SMS lines in place of a call centre were put forward as ways of expediting response time.
In summing up inputs from the day’s session, Holtmann said: “There needs to be greater clarity of roles. The police are responsible for fighting crime, not people, so residents should know what their roles are.”
As a way of forging partnerships and earning back residents’ trust, the City needed to be open: “The City must clearly define objectives so that different sectors of the population can participate,” she said.
The member of the mayoral committee for public safety, Matshidiso Mfikoe, who had spent the day in the shoes of a police officer and an emergency services official along with Executive Mayor Parks Tau, stopped by the consultative session to share her experiences and thank everyone for participating and sharing their thoughts.