Democratic Alliance elections manifesto focuses on crime rather than defence

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The Democratic Alliance (DA), as the official opposition in the just ended sixth administration, has had a lot to say about the state of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) but does not mention defence in its elections manifesto, with a focus rather on domestic security and crime.

The manifesto has it that John Steenhuisen’s party, if it gains a majority, will “rescue South Africans” from what it sees as seven ills. These range from crime, corruption and lawlessness to failing education and public health systems.

The DA aims to halve the rate of violent crime, which sees approximately 75 South Africans murdered each day. According to a World Bank study, crime is costing South Africa at least 10% of its annual gross domestic product.

“South Africans live in fear of crime because they have no reason to believe that the SAPS will protect them,” the DA says in its manifesto. “Due to a lack of trust and confidence in the SAPS and justice system, there is chronic underreporting of crime…A lack of specialised policing and a loss of skills in SAPS has resulted in an increase in gangsterism and the use of drugs as gangs have evolved into criminal empires running complex operations involving drug trafficking, robbery, money laundering, racketeering, extortion, human trafficking, and prostitution. In rural areas, the remoteness and greater distances between properties compared to urban areas make visible policing almost impossible, resulting in an escalation in farm attacks and farm murders.”

Before presenting its solutions, the DA highlighted that the SAPS suffers from severe capacity constraints as evidenced by a reduction in its staff complement from 199 345 in 2011/12 to only 182 126 in 2021/22. “There has also been a loss of specialists, a lack of evidence-based policing and a failure to utilise modern technology or keep abreast of international trends in crime-fighting. The national government has failed to meaningfully recognise and integrate private security services, neighbourhood watches and other private role players in enhancing safety and security and has instead treated them as threats.”

The DA also pointed to institutional and capacity issues in the criminal justice system, including severe court backlogs, and facilities being poorly maintained. “The National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA) capacity has been significantly eroded, the Hawks lack sufficient independence or capacity, and the State Security Agency (SSA) has been heavily factionalised and misused for political and personal interests.”

To “rescue South Africans from crime, corruption and lawlessness,” the DA aims to strengthen the criminal justice system, and decentralise the police service and ensure more local accountability. “This will involve devolving specific policing management and governance functions to competent local and provincial government while maintaining a national police force. By allowing capable provincial and metro governments to manage their own SAPS forces, they can tailor policies and policing plans that are more appropriate to their specific needs, bringing security and safety closer to the communities they serve.”

Other activities towards combatting crime and improving South Africa’s criminal justice system will include moving towards evidence-based policing; identifying crime hotspots; reducing bloated senior SAPS management; establishing coordinated partnerships with private security, neighbourhood watches, and other private role-players in safety and security through a whole-of-society approach; protecting whistle-blowers; conducting SAPS lifestyle audits; strengthening the forensic capacity of the SAPS;and taking cybercrime seriously, using sophisticated technology such as data analytics, Artificial Intelligence, and digital forensics to protect the state and the South African public against cybercrime.

The fight against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) will be a priority of a DA government, with various interventions to combat the scourge, ranging from police training to victim support.

To avoid a repeat of the July 2021 unrest, the DA proposes implementing the Panel of Experts Report recommendations into the July 2021 Unrest by establishing a dedicated training facility for public order policing (POP) officers, conducting periodic assessments and properly equipping officers to deal with potentially fatal injuries. A “use of force” policy will be adopted, specifically for the SAPS POP units, limiting lethal force to situations with no reasonable alternative.

The DA is for responsible firearm ownership and cracking down on the smuggling of firearms by the SAPS to gangsters and criminals.

To address rural crime, including farm attacks, the DA proposes creating rural safety units together with Rural Community Policing Units; creating rural radio networks including the use of CCTV and drones; adequately capacitating anti-stock-theft units; and introducing legislation to criminalise and prevent orchestrated land invasions.

With regard to state security, the DA proposes disbanding the existing State Security Agency (SSA) and establishing a new independent, efficient, and transparent State Security Agency, free from party political interference.

Related read on the DA’s defence position: SANDF should withdraw from foreign peace missions to focus on security at home, DA maintains