Crime has surged in recent weeks across the country, with cases such as rape, murder and housebreaking hogging the headlines. New Era’s Loide Jason sat with police chief Sebastian Ndeitunga to discuss issues and concerns around this disturbing trend.
LJ: Inspector General, the spate of crime reported over the past weeks has left many living in fear. Is crime out of control in our country?
SN: Yes, it is true that after spending six months under the state of emergency and the curfew in between, the movement of people was limited at certain times and even that of criminals. After the lifting of the state of emergency and curfew thereof, we have seen a wave of criminal activities increasing.
Concerns around crime are genuine but we cannot say the situation is out of control because this spate is only affecting some regions particularly, Khomas, Erongo, Oshana and Ohangwena. Rape and domestic violence are worse in the four O’ regions.
The concerns of the people are very genuine, but we can only succeed if the public is working with us because these people are living with us in our society.
The community must play its civic duty for their safety. It is a concern and I urge the community not to lose faith in the police and government.
LJ: Do you think law-enforcement officers are offered the necessary support, including the provision of vehicles, to effectively combat criminal activities and have crime under control?
SN: As you know, the resources will never be enough. We were given resources that will assist us to contain, prevent, and investigate the criminal activities in our country. Secondly, the mobility of the police force is very important and if the police do not have enough tools to keep it mobile at any time and any moment that is required, we will always have the complaints from the public because our reaction will be very limited.
Since 2015 we did not buy vehicles. The vehicles that we are having are now becoming very old. They are in and out of the garage and the service becomes very expensive.
The mileage is very high, the country is very big and the population of our country is very scattered.
Crimes are committed in isolation and in those areas that are remote. The police response in those areas requires proper vehicles to respond to calls.
But also we have problems with the drivers of those vehicles.
It is disheartening to see very new vehicle destroyed through speeding and others under the water of encouragement that we call alcohol.
This is a clearer call to all of us that are given authority to take care of vehicles because if they destroy it they are the ones who will be in a difficult position to operate without vehicles.
LJ: Housebreaking incidents have also increased over the past weeks. Do you think this has to do with the lifting of the state of emergency, which restricted the movement of people?
SN: Partly so, but because criminals are in organised syndicates and they give each task among themselves, including first to identify the vulnerable house to break into and later the valuables items they are looking after, for example, the electronic appliances and then they identify the market so that they sell and get money to feed themselves.
Expensive properties are sold at cheaper prices. The problems in the market. There is a market there that is interested in buying stolen goods, and that is what makes criminals steal things. Some of them are given a shopping list for things to go and steal.
LJ: Women and children are being ruthlessly raped in their homes. We have also seen several killings, including domestic violence, being reported by the authorities. Do you think society’s moral values have declined, and how do we get out of this moral slump we find ourselves in?
SN: Yes, our society is losing the sanity and civic traditions and I think the tradition and culture of Africans being drilled from its originality and purpose and objective. Many people are no longer seating around the fire with parents to be told how to behave in society to respect not only the properties but the lives and dignity of everyone.
People have an attitude of ‘I don’t care, what is happening is not rape’. A man in his 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s raping a child, a toddler or a baby yet they say rape is when there is no consent. Do you expect a child to give you consent?
It can be described as a sickness, while the killing is lack of tolerance, respect, patience and understanding. It is terrible for a man to fail to protect a woman but resort to beating and killing them. It is unacceptable.
LJ: A Windhoek-based woman, who went to Walvis Bay, has been missing now for months without a trace. Do you think the public is losing faith in the police, given the fact that she has not been found yet?
SN: It is a serious concern from the police side and society. One will ask him/herself where did she go and how did she disappear in thin air and nobody knows where she is. The only suspicion we have maybe she is trafficked out of the country or maybe she is killed and buried at an unknown place. But the problem is that in our society there are people that are shielding information, there might be people who know and have information but do not want to share it with the police. We are worried and will not stop looking for information on the whereabouts of this woman.
LJ: There is a general feeling that crime will decrease when police presence increases. What do you say about this?
SN: It is true. It is a matter of facts because the police presence everywhere, is bettering any criminal from committing any crime in a specific area, therefore it is what we call crime prevention.
LJ: When are we going to see the return of joint law-enforcement operations to help curb crime in our communities?
SN: We did not stop those joint crime prevention operations. Now we are having in all towns Namib Desert Crime Prevention Operation, it is only that it is lowered because of the six-month state of emergency, but we are going to revive it. It is still up and running and I have already written letters to my counterparts in Namibian Defence Force and Namibian Correctional Services to provide more manpower and continue the intensity of the Namib Desert Crime Prevention Operation.
LJ: There have also been renewed calls to bring back the death penalty. Do you think such calls are justified?
SN: I am not too sure whether this will stop those criminals from committing those crimes. I know that in the United States and some other neighbouring country, the death penalty is still there but same crimes are still going on.
If I were to talk as an ordinary person, not as an inspector general, I will develop the concept of who to be subjected to the death penalty. But the world is now moving away from the death penalty and Namibia is part of the world and global village and we have to move together with civilised nations and move away from the death penalty.
Out of frustration people are calling for the death penalty and we have moved away from it. I suggest that instead of the death penalty people should be given harsh penalties and labour. Not all of them but those that kill, rape and other illicit crimes. They should go and work in those projects that develop the country. I am not sure if human rights will allow it, but it is a personal suggestion.
LJ: Is the police considering recruiting more members in the coming year to beef up operations of the force?
SN: Yes, that is our wish. We would like to recruit more; that will depend on the allocation of our budget. If the budget allows, we will do so. We have a wave of the retirees and the number of personnel is shrinking. We would like to recruit and train more – not only the basics but also special training, but sometimes our wish does not go together with the available resources.
LJ: What challenges is the force currently facing to effectively deal with crime and other operations?
SN: As we have already outlined, the challenges that our society has become more violent, it faces high unemployment, school dropouts, they migrate from town to town with the hope of finding employment and just to end up involving themselves in criminal activities. Other challenges are lack of resources of training, tools are compounded by the need of the country because the government has to feed all ministries and government entities, and therefore we need to learn to do with a little we have.
LJ: Do you think communities are doing their best to complement police operations in combating crime and how can this collaboration be improved going forward?
SN: Yes, we should thank the community because most of the community members are very helpful where and when they can and some are scared of the criminals, but I can say our communities need to do more, as much as am glad about what they are doing because the criminals are hiding in the community.
Let us say I am 50/50 happy with what they are doing but should put up more efforts to report the criminals.
The police are doing all that is necessary to arrest criminals but those with information are not coming forth to report the criminals.
LJ: Lastly, general, there have reports of inmates contracting Covid-19 in police holding cells in towns such as Oshakati and Rundu. What is being done to decongest these areas, without compromising the safety of those involved?
SN: This is a very serious concern and I can confirm that it is true, recently it was 48 in Oshakati but we have no facilities to put those who are infected, we are glad to work with the ministry of health, to assist us to quarantine some of the inmates at the identified institutions.
However, this is a challenge to the police because those institutions have no security features necessary to keep trial-awaiting inmates.
We are trying within our minimum resources to isolate those who are affected until the situation normalises.