“Criminals are apparently taking control of rural towns because they no longer have respect or fear for the police. They are also aware of the fact that the resources in smaller towns are inadequate.”
So says Dr. Johan Burger, an independent crime expert and researcher, after a daring attack by a group of robbers last Sunday on Graskop in the Lowveld. The town has apparently been plagued by criminals for the past two years.
The town was under siege on Sunday (April 30) by a gang of at least 13 heavily armed attackers who in the early hours of the morning blocked all access routes to the town and fired shots into the streets. This while, according to reports, local police officers hid in the local police station and only made their appearance on the scene much later.
According to Brig. Selvy Mohlala, police spokesperson, the robbers raided several shops in the town and, among other things, shot open safes with explosives.
Two days later, some fed-up residents themselves locked the local police station’s gate with a chain and lock and demanded the station commander’s head. The police are currently investigating this incident and according to Mohlala, residents can be arrested and prosecuted because their actions were “illegal”.
Linda Grimbeek, head of the Kruger-Laeveld Chamber of Commerce, says the move was made out of pure desperation and frustration because the police have so far been unable to do anything to arrest the gangs that threaten residents’ lives and businesses.
“Residents are at a loss about the police’s inability to stop these gangs that have had the town in a stranglehold for two years,” says Grimbeek.
Burger says it is incomprehensible and unacceptable that no attention has been paid to the threat for so long.
He says the blame can possibly be laid at the commander’s or the provincial commissioner’s door.
“Either the provincial commissioner was never informed of the situation, or she was informed but did nothing about the matter. The provincial commissioner has more access to specialist units and could have intervened.”
Grimbeek says the robberies in Lowveld towns are due to illegal mining and poaching operations in the area.
Lack of resources
The police in the countryside simply do not have enough resources because over the years in rural towns there has not been as great a need for the same high-density policing as in urban areas, says Burger.
“When it comes to crime, rural areas have historically been quieter and more peaceful than cities. However, this is no longer the case. In recent times, more and more rural police stations have been targeted by robbers for firearms – what is clear is that the robbers have no fear or respect for the police.”
Burger believes that the situation in the countryside should receive focused attention from the top management of the police.
Apart from the lack of resources, there is also a shortage of firearms among officers in the countryside and there are concerns about the quality of the officers, especially commanders and senior officers. In addition, too few police officers contribute to the extremely disturbing lack of policing in communities, says Burger.
“Police officers in the countryside and cities all receive the same training. The problem is compounded by the rural police not having ready access to additional resources and manpower – such as the deployment of specialist units.”
On the issue of private crime fighting and whether community members can take over the police’s function, Raymond Hohls, operational manager of community safety at AfriForum, says that the community still needs the police’s help because ordinary residents and even neighborhood watches do not have the powers or rights of police officers. do not have.
“Community members and neighborhood watches can help to secure the community and assist the police on a tactical level,” says Hohls.
Burger says the police can find reasons in legislation to act against the residents, but according to him this will not solve the bigger problem in the community.
“The residents have every right to feel frustrated because they have been handed over to crime syndicates, with the police being the first line of defense but not even coming out of the blocks in the heat of battle,” he says.
“Rather, the police should look deeper and determine why the residents behaved in this way and deal with these frustrations. They must have discussions with the community about what is needed to restore law and order.”
He warns that people should not act illegally in attempts to force the police into action.
“It’s not going to solve the problem either.”
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