Where are the real discussions?
Given the historical and political nature of gang violence and gangsterism in general in the Western Cape, debates should not only be on service delivery alone but rather on its negative impact on the socio-economic development on disadvantaged communities, particularly, ‘Coloured’ and ‘Black’ areas.
A high rate of gang violence can have many adverse repercussions such as a negative impact on the investment climate which can deter or delay development and growth in disadvantaged communities. It can further lead to higher costs of doing business such as the need to employ different forms of security. This in turn diverts investment away from business expansion and productivity improvement and may lead to a less than optimal operating strategy. Other negative impacts include business losses, arising from looting, arson, theft, extortion and fraud. The loss of output due to reduced hours of operation, loss of workdays arising from outbreaks of violence as well as an avoidance of some types of economic activities have devastating effects on the investment climate. The loss of output is also visible at level of temporary (injury) or permanent (from murder) exit of individuals from the labour force.
Gang violence further erodes the development of human capital as well as social capital which in turn, constrains the potential for growth. Gangsterism reduces the quality of life of local communities affected. Violent crimes in general, forces otherwise productive individuals to occasionally exit the labour force because of violent injury to themselves or close associates, or because of social unrest in the community. Violence in some communities also causes schools to close periodically. Moreover, home and community instability is not conducive to learning and educational objectives.
It diverts public resources excessively away from productive uses that have a potentially much higher impact on social development and growth, to areas such as police, justice, the medical system (for treatment of violence-related injuries and trauma).
Gang violence and gangsterism is a product of colonialism and apartheid and it continues to deepen its roots from the effect of broad ineffective and a ‘colonial-centric administrative’ approach to service delivery. The outcome of such an approach is distortions such as continuous discrimination to services rendered, chronic unemployment and high levels of inequality seen within the context of the Western Cape.
What needs to be discussed is not only the impact of gang violence on service delivery but rather the impact and the effectiveness of both provincial and local government departments in rendering a quality of service to vulnerable communities. What is required is an urgent response to where there is a dire need as well as how service delivery ensures that communities are places of safety, places of better health services and places of better education facilities.
Discussing the impact of gang violence should translate into action and the deliverance of proper services to ‘Coloured’ and ‘Black’ communities. The EFF is committed to addressing the impact of provincial government programmes to reduce gangsterism and its effect to increase safety. The issue is a matter of urgency and should be discussed across different sectors that are inclusive of government, NGO’s, CSO’s as well as youth-led institutions such as the Chrysalis Academy. Previous safety initiatives such as the ‘Safety Lab’ was initially created as a response to safety and funded by the Department of Community Safety. Initiatives such as the Safety Lab needs to be interrogated to understand what has been the impact of this initiative and how exactly have people benefited from the Safety Lab.
Given that there exists safety programmes, discussions need to focus on whether or not safety initiatives should be reviewed and/or enhanced to better serve the communities in a real and meaningful way. Initiatives such as the Nyanga Yethu (a youth crime prevention initiative by local people of Nyanga) were once seen as potential vehicles that can address the issue. However, the initiative was stopped.
The current gang-infested landscape grips communities as well as hold people hostage in a way that affects not only their safety but health and generally well-being, surely it is time to review current safety initiatives and question the discontinuation and absence of safety initiatives.
Gang violence is most certainly not a new issue. Instead of recycling old discussions, provincial and local governments must translate lip-service into action. Current programmes such as the EPP programme, Community Policing Forums, Bambanani School Safety Projects and many others need to be critically examined with the view to revise or re-create initiatives in a way that places the needs of the vulnerable as a priority with clear and well-planned programmes that will begin to tackle an issue that is often not prioritised. These are the real issues politicians should be addressing in order to find better ways to structure programmes where communities are not only safe but where there are also built-in components that address issues of inequality and unemployment – elements black and coloured communities struggle with on an hourly basis.
There is a need to create and implement initiatives that are cognisant of the above. Sustainability must be at the forefront of projects and programmes as well as offering youth educational and skills-development alternatives in their respective communities. Current youth training academies were instituted as a response to youth development as well as to address the scourge of gang violence in communities, yet escalating levels of gang violence tell a different story.
While government (Department of Community Safety, Provincial Treasury) funds were ploughed into many youth-focused skills programmes and academies aimed at strengthening safety in some communities, youth and communities remain targets and vulnerable to violence.
An approach that is nuanced and cognisant of the complex social and economic elements many ‘Black’ and ‘Coloured’ communities are faced with is urgently required. Initiatives and programmes can no longer offer superficial change, it needs to offer communities real change that reduces inequality, improves education as well as ensures effective and fair law enforcement.
These are the value-add discussions all levels of governments should prioritise.
Bernard Joseph is the Western Cape Chairperson of the EFF