Huge frustration with the slow pace of service delivery in the Eastern Cape continues to boil over, resulting in public unrest. We need a highly trained and fully staffed Public Order Policing Unit (POPS) in the Eastern Cape if we are to maintain law and order in an increasingly volatile climate.
The incident on Wednesday where workers disrupted a meeting of the Nelson Mandela Metro council, manhandled councillors and held them hostage, illustrates the issue of the growing number of unruly protests that have been taking place in the Eastern Cape. According to last year’s SAPS crime statistics public unrest increased by 60, 3% in the province, the second highest in the country. The number of protests reported to the SAPS increased from 63 in 2010/11 to 101 in 2011/12.
In the run-up to the general election scheduled for mid-2014 political temperatures are going to rise as the Eastern Cape faces one of its most highly contested election campaigns and where communities become more volatile in agitating for service delivery.
Ten years ago there were 900 members of the Public Order Police Unit (POPS). In response to legislature questions I asked the MEC for Safety and Liaison, Helen Sauls-August this month, there were 522 members of the SAPS who formed part of the Public Order Police Unit. She admitted that manpower was not enough but added that “members are trained in crowd management and as such are equipped with the necessary skills required to deal with their responsibilities when situations arise”.
Our biggest concern is that if multiple unrest situations occur in the province at the same time, POPS will be too thinly spread.
The ugly incident in Port Elizabeth paints a picture of total anarchy. On Wednesday students of Buffalo City College ran amok in protest over study fees while on Tuesday staff of Walter Sisulu University burned tyres in the streets and recently the unrest in Sterkspruit. These are but a few incidents that have taken place in the Eastern Cape.
SAPS does not have sufficient crowd control members to deal with all the unrest situations in our province, resulting in members having to be taken off crime prevention duties. I would like the Department of Safety and Liaison to investigate the capacity of the SAPS to handle unrest situations to ensure there are programs in place to train additional members.
The department needs to take note of the rising tide of dissatisfaction when it comes to service delivery and the high rate of crime in this province. We can therefore not afford to deploy ordinary SAPS members who are supposed to be patrolling the streets and keeping our communities safe to do the works of POPS. The department needs to pull out all the stops to ensure the SAPS is operating efficiently in reducing crime and making communities feel safe.
In the light of the current political climate and how it can unfold over the next year, the issue of public order policing needs urgent attention. The lesson of Marikana is that we need to be fully prepared so that ghastly slaughter can never be repeated.
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