It's not police's task to recognise wardens - Cele

Experts opposed to arming Lesufi's 'peace officers'

15 November 2023 - 07:26
By Jeanette Chabalala
Crime prevention wardens launch ceremony in Tsakane Stadium in Ekurhuleni .
Image: ANTONIO MUCHAVE Crime prevention wardens launch ceremony in Tsakane Stadium in Ekurhuleni .

Police minister Bheki Cele says his department is not responsible for giving Gauteng crime prevention wardens powers to work as law enforcers.

Frustration over delays in recognising the 6,000 wardens employed to fight crime in the province came to a head at the weekend when Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi launched an attack on “a minister” he claimed did not want to recognise them.

His comments were interpreted as directed to Cele.

Delays in authorising the recognition of the wardens has rendered them toothless in warding off crime. 

Lesufi's spokesperson Sizwe Pamla  said for now the wardens were simply students who have no power to even "make a raid". They are deployed at specific police stations.

He said the premier was "frustrated" because the process of getting the wardens armed was moving at a snail's pace.  

He said the recognition process requires SAPS to make submissions to the DOJ.

Police minister Bheki Cele and Gauteng premier  Panyaza Lesufi.
Image: ANTONIO MUCHAVE Police minister Bheki Cele and Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi.

Recognition of the crime wardens under the Criminal Procedure Act would mean they could work as “peace officers” with wide-ranging powers including carrying guns and effecting arrests.

Cele told Sowetan yesterday: “It is not the police ministry responsible for the recognition of peace warders but rather the DOJ [department of justice and correctional services].”

His statement came after Lesufi had publicly apologised for coming across as “insensitive and threatening to a government minister”.

Addressing a South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco) conference on Sunday, Lesufi said: "We have trained these young people to be police wardens. You, as minister, are refusing to recognise them, your days are numbered. You can't undermine young people when they want to assist us in fighting crime.

"We are saying to this minister, give us the power for these young people to have power to get guns so that they can protect our townships and chase away criminals," Panyaza said during a speech at Sanco congress

Reacting to Cele shifting the responsibility to the justice department, DOJ spokesperson Chrispin Phiri could only say: "As we understand, the matter is receiving attention."

He did not explain further what exactly his department was doing. 

Some of the wardens' roles include enhancing police visibility at the ward level, working closely with community patrollers and ensuring timeous response to reported crime incidents.

David Bruce, an independent researcher on policing and consultant at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), said it would be a bad idea to arm the wardens.

"The Gauteng provincial government has not thought properly about the issue. The crime prevention warden system has been created overnight. They haven't established the right administrative system to manage the system – the unit of 6,000 people is bigger than most metropolitan police services in the country, so that is quite a big organisation to manage," Bruce said.

He said should the wardens be given firearms there would be a need for a good administrative system to manage and monitor access to such guns.

Bruce said the use of firearms by the wardens was likely to pose a danger to members of the public.

He also said at the moment the wardens didn't have specific legal powers and were in the same positions as any other civilian including private security guards.

Bruce said it would be a concern for the wardens to carry firearms because they weren't going to be properly trained to use those firearms.

"It is also going to turn them into targets of criminal elements, they are going to be subjected to the risk of being attacked by people who want to steal their firearms. The level of danger that they are going to be exposed to is going to be far greater. As far as I understand they aren't appointed in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act."

Law enforcement expert Mpho Matlala from the Unisa College of Law opposed giving guns to wardens.

"Their training is not sufficient to get somebody competent in terms of proficiency required for anybody to handle a firearm or even be a crime fighter in terms of the firearm control Act.

"You will be putting them on a suicide mission, once you put a firearm into the hands of a ill-prepared person, you are playing with fire. You are risking a lot of incidents such as negligence discharge of a firearm," said Matlala.