Deepening the fight against crime

15 August 2008

In his closing address to the 52nd National Conference of the African National Congress, President Jacob Zuma, among other things said, “I therefore call on all ANC branches to actively lead, champion and facilitate crime prevention strategies.”

In this regard, among the many experiences we need to draw lessons from, the President mentioned street committees.

The January 8 Statement of the NEC calls for the sharpening of our anti-crime campaign, and the need to work to improve structures and functioning of the various elements of the criminal justice system, as well as to highlight the critical role of mass mobilization in the fight against crime.

The Freedom Charter injuncts us to strive to ensure that the people of our land live in conditions characterized by security and comfort.

Our objective is to ensure that all South Africans, especially the poor, experience an improving quality of life. This includes the pursuance of the goal of ensuring that our communities live in conditions of peace, security and stability. While we strive also to give birth to a nation inspired by the values of human solidarity, crime violates people\’s human rights and works against our objectives of promoting values of a caring society.

The Strategy and Tactics directs us to place critical focus “on mobilizing society to make life difficult for criminals in our midst.”

We engage in the battle against crime conscious that it cannot be divorced from the war on want. Therefore, it is the overall programme of national democratic transformation that will gradually eliminate some of the conditions that spawn the scourge of social crime.

Working in partnership with the criminal justice system, communities need to be mobilized, encouraged, empowered and assisted to assume an active role to meet the challenges of crime.

Addressing the ANC (Transvaal) Congress on 21 September 1953, former ANC President Nelson Mandela among other things said, “Our immediate task is to consolidate these victories, to preserve our organizations and to muster our forces for the resumption of the offensive. To achieve this important task the National Executive of the ANC in consultation with the National Action Committee of the ANC and the SAIC formulated a plan of action popularly known as the M Plan and the highest importance is given to it by the National Executives. Instructions were given to all provinces to implement the M plan without delay.”

Comrade Mandela continued to say, “From now on the activity of Congressites must not be confined to speeches and resolutions. Their activities must find expression in wide scale work among the masses, work which will enable them to make the greatest possible contact with the working people.”

Describing the M Plan in his introduction to the book No Easy Walk to Freedom, former ANC President OR Tambo said, “Mandela drafted the M plan, a simple commonsense plan for organization on a street basis, so that Congress volunteers would be in daily touch with the people, alert to their needs and able to mobilize them.”

Writing in Umsebenzi Online, Volume 7 No 9, Comrade Blade Nzimande observed that “The call by the ANC President Jacob Zuma for the formation of street committees as part of a crime-fighting strategy is an important call and initiative.” He noted then that while this is an urgent task, there was however “little visible activity.” The latter situation though, is certainly changing, there is now visible activity.

Comrade Blade also challenged all of us to debate on “the character, tasks and challenges in building street, village and block committees.” We agree with him that such structures may assume different forms in different localities and that we should therefore not be too prescriptive with regard to the form. We also agree with him that practical work on the ground will assist us better to learn about the shape and role of these structures in a democratic setting.

On Sunday, 10 August 2008, President Jacob Zuma launched street committees in Durban. The committees were launched in Ward 11, in areas that include Newlands East, Siyanda, and part of KwaMashu Section D, at Garuppa Street Brimdle Place and, Skate and Moray Place. More are set to be launched in Free State, North West and Limpopo provinces.

During the launch, President Jacob Zuma called on the South African Police Service to cooperate, assist and join hands with street committees to strengthen the fight against crime.

In the 1980\’s, during the days of the UDF, street committees were successful in defeating various criminal gangs that were terrorizing the communities. Around Durban, these gangs included the amaSinyora in KwaMashu, amaNinja in Clermont, amaMavarara in KwaNdengezi.

We defeated these, and indeed many other criminal elements in other parts of the country because we were organized.

The terrain has indeed changed. There is bound to arise some tension between the street committees and the various community structures, including CPFs. We must conceptualise ways of managing this tension. Significantly, the role of street committees must be seen in a positive light. They should supplement the work of the other civil society and governance organs and institutions, including the SAPS.

During the launch of the street committees in Durban, President Jacob Zuma issued a challenge to the leadership of our movement at all levels, to draw experience from the volunteer movement of the 1950\’s. In this regard part of the challenge is to consider how we could better utilize the volunteer spirit of marshals. We could for instance, create a data about all the marshals, develop a structure and create a code to guide the important work they do.

It has also been noted that a number of street committees in the 1980s were hijacked into vigilantism. One of the critical ways to address this challenge would be through political education.

Unlike the period of the 1980s, today we have the political space, and the directive of the 52nd Conference, to deepen political education. Where this may not be feasible through a party-political approach, creative ways must nevertheless be found to drive the message home, such as we did in the 1980s through faith based organizations and other NGOs.

Irrespective of how it is done, nevertheless, the comrades involved in these formations would indeed need to undergo ideological training so that they may develop a deeper understanding of the challenges.

We have no choice but to succeed in ensuring that the revolutionary movement wages the revolutionary war in conditions that are not fertile for counter revolutionaries to exploit backward elements in society.

The \’cries\’ about the imminent inclusion of the DSO into the SAPS ignore the immense challenges we face to ensure the peace and security of all the people, particularly the poor, thus the need to strengthen our overall capacity to fight crime, not only white collar crime.

Comrade Blade notes that, “because of the proximity of street committees to the people, they are well placed to begin to identify and act upon a whole range of other challenges facing households in a street, including levels of poverty…”

And, this is precisely what President OR Tambo meant when he said, “Mandela drafted the M plan, a simple commonsense plan for organization on a street basis, so that Congress volunteers would be in daily touch with the people, alert to their needs and able to mobilize them.”

Let the experience in KZN, Free State, North West, Limpopo, and the other provinces that will certainly follow suit in constituting street committees, inform the debate as we work to evolve organs of people\’s power.

We commend the leadership of the ANC in KZN led by Comrade Zweli Mkhize, as well as the ANC Regional leadership of the eThekwini Region led by comrade J Mchunu, on the progress they have made in the establishment of the street committees.

As Comrade President Mandela said in 1953, let our activity not be confined to speeches and resolutions. Our activities must find expression in wide scale work among the masses, work which will enable us to make the greatest possible contact with the people.

Nathi Mthethwa
ANC Chief Whip & NEC Member