SOWETAN | Too early, risky to arm wardens

16 November 2023 - 12:10
Crime prevention wardens launch ceremony in Tsakane Stadium in Ekurhuleni .
Image: ANTONIO MUCHAVE Crime prevention wardens launch ceremony in Tsakane Stadium in Ekurhuleni .

The tussle between Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi and “a minister” over delayed recognition of crime wardens has underscored tensions in the approach to fighting crime between two spheres of government.  

At the weekend Lesufi, addressing a SA National Civic Organisation conference, took aim at a cabinet minister he did not mention by name but was speculated to be police minister Bheki Cele.

Lesufi expressed frustration that there were delays in  recognising the 6,000 crime wardens he employed in April to assist with fighting crime in the province.

The delay in recognising the wardens as “peace officers” in terms of the law has meant that months after their appointment, they are no more than organised civilians or private security guards.

What appears to have irked Lesufi even more is the fact that the wardens are not allowed to carry or use guns and make arrests as they are not law enforcement officers.

While the premier has since apologised for his comments “appearing insensitive and threatening to a minister” he has not backed down on the substance of his frustration. He described his frustration with fighting crime as stemming from a genuine desire to make a difference.

But perhaps the most critical question that must be addressed beyond the disjointed strategy of two spheres of government in fighting crime is whether arming the wardens is a good idea.

Lesufi clearly believes in fighting fire with fire while experts have cautioned that increasing guns in circulation by giving them to wardens not properly trained not just on their handling but tactical use could only serve to fuel more crime.

To be clear, we are not opposed to the deployment of wardens in our communities to help fight crime, in fact we are in support of the initiative.

There is no doubt that we need more boots on the ground to fight the scourge of crime in townships. We equally understand that many criminals who have been terrorising communities are heavily armed and dangerous.

But we believe this must be the job of well-trained police who have taken an oath to serve and protect the public.  

We ought to all be concerned about the real risks of arming the wardens if we are genuine about protecting the public from violent crime.