Police failure is the root cause of the Clifton beach debacle. This failure extends beyond the slackness of local police. If there was proper policing, private security guards would not outnumber the SA Police Service (Saps). If police did their jobs, security guards would not act as law enforcers. But because police do little, laws and by-laws are broken with impunity every day across SA.
Private security companies fill gaps left by missing-in-action police.
According to the Sunday Times, a police general told Cape Town mayor Dan Plato the situation would escalate beyond officers’ control if they intervened during Friday night’s sheep slaughter. That cop-out means police were scared to enforce the law. This same Saps slaughtered miners at Marikana in 2012. Both extremes, from cold-blooded murderers to meek-as-lamb bystanders, are unprofessional.
The police general at Clifton, “explained that the protesters also made claims to their constitutional, religious and cultural rights, and it was not the police’s role to make a constitutional determination”.
Damn right. Their role is to prevent crime and uphold the law. Instead, they decided that some traditional rights take precedence over laws and by-laws. That’s beyond the authority of a police officer. In addition, the authenticity of Friday’s ritual has been questioned.
The same Saps general, “pointed out that ritual slaughter happened regularly on beaches such as Monwabisi in Khayelitsha, and police did not intervene in such cases”.
By this logic, if police allow law-breaking in one area, they must also allow it in others.
So, instead of enforcing laws, rather just let things slide, so offenders don’t get upset. Nonsense. Laws should not be broken in Khayelitsha or anywhere.
South Africa’s beaches belong to all. No private security company has any right to tell people they must leave a beach. The City of Cape Town has authority to restrict access in the interests of public safety, such as when there is a sewage spill or threat to life or property.
For example, on December 16, city police arrested someone there for armed robbery, possession of a dangerous weapon and intimidation. In a statement, the city said it also acted in cases where people brought weapons (including pangas and knives), drugs and alcohol to beaches. Assault, theft, trespassing on nearby properties, and attempts to open doors of homes and cars were also cited. If the Saps had been doing their jobs, this would have been curtailed.
What about racism? Some witnesses say that in both the December 16 and December 23 incidents, beachgoers of all races were advised to leave; the request was colour-blind.
That may be true. No doubt race has been opportunistically exploited, further damaging our social fabric. Yet it is also true that security companies are prone to racial profiling.
Where does this leave us in 2019?
In an 1851 poem, Dover Beach, Matthew Arnold lamented being on a terrain, “Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, where ignorant armies clash by night.”
Let’s move beyond clashes of ignorance, please. Rule of law would be a good start.
Happy New Year.