New Era reporter Albertina Nakale interviewed the Khomas Regional Police Commander, Festus Shilongo, on the much debated topic of the ongoing police campaign to enforce the Liquor Act, by closing illegal shebeens, as well as the strategic plans in place for fighting crime in the Khomas Region.
New Era (NE): Who is Commissioner Shilongo?
Commissioner Festus Shilongo (FS): This little or big boy is actually Festus Kondjeni Shilongo. I grew up in Tsumeb, but I was born in Eenhana in the north. I spent some time in the police force. I was trained as a professional police officer 18 years ago and I progressed from position to position. Professionally I was trained in various countries in policing matters that include policing international markets, policing in relation to United Nations Peace-Keeping and Peace- Enforcement operations.
NE: As a Regional Police Commander what strategic plans do you have for the Khomas Region? And have you set out a timeframe to achieve your objectives?
FS: Yes we have got strategies that are guided by the objective of the region. We have crafted these strategies under the concept called “Secure Khomas for All”. Secure Khomas is a concept with objectives to enhance the police-public relationship, to target criminals and certain crimes, to build capacity the of police officers to be able to do the job properly and to enhance friendly and cooperative relations with other forces like the Namibian Defence Force (NDF), Prisons and security companies. Our strategy is to reduce crime by 35 percent within the next three years, which is an objective agreed upon between the City Police and Nami-bian Police, where we also have to integrate both of our plans to realize this.
NE: How can residents help the police in the fight against crime and, as follow up question, how effective is community policing?
FS: Residents first have to change their attitude towards the police. It seems that the confidence is lost and the community has to learn to build this confidence anew. If they build the confidence with the police, and they can come up freely if they happen to see any shortcomings in the police, then we would be able to give them the services that they would like to see from us as a policing organisation.
The effectiveness of community policing is that most nations that have applied community policing effectively, have tasted the fruits of safety, and value added security, and as such criminals will also be afraid of committing crimes.
NE: What kind of crime is most common in the Khomas Region and why is this so?
FS: We have got crimes like assault by grievous bodily harm and rape. Why I think these ones are the most common is because of alcohol [with] people beating each other up and raping women and girls. The other ones are economic-related cases, which are house breaking, theft from motor vehicles, shoplifting and general theft. These [crimes are committed] because of the state of poverty, and sometimes because people [see them] as a challenge.
NE: Windhoek alone has about 5000 shebeens and bars, what impact does having so many shebeens have on crime?
FS: Alcohol is causing a lot of trouble such road accidents, physical violence or GBH, as I said, and this is because of the many, many sheebens that we have. They are everywhere. It is not to say that if we stop shebeens these crimes will not happen, the crimes will happen, but it is not going to happen at the frequency that it’s happening now. And as of now we are determined to close illegal shebeens, even if it means that we deny some people their livehoods or sources of income. Sometimes illegal is just illegal. In Parliament our leaders are busy discussing this, we also saw it on TV. And also these different committees of shebeen associations are trying to send a message to the leaders so that their plight can be understood.
NE: How does the City Police complement the regular Nampol in the fight against crime? We have also seen the installation of several Closed Circuit TV (CCTV) cameras in and around the city. How effective are these tools in the fight against crime, particularly petty crime?
FS: The City Police is complementing us in the form of maintaining peace and stability, crime prevention and value-added security. They are the direct custodians of the local authority by-laws and also some national laws. And they are also complementing us in terms of equipment, manpower and in commanded control.
NE: How affective are CCTVs?
FS: These tools are very effective because they can be presented to the court as evidence of any accident or incident that has occurred. We depend a lot on these cameras because they are also regarded as proper deterrents, they deter criminals from committing crimes since they fear being [captured] on camera.
NE: Police always lament the fact that they are under-resourced, how does the lack of resources affect your operations?
FS: The lack of resources, now as am talking, is affecting my operations. I am depending on business people. And I just want to call on business people [that] for them to have a secure environment to conduct business, they should come to us [so that we] can tell them where we lack assistance so that they can make it up to us. By so doing we can secure the business environment for them.
NE: What is the bearing of the high unemployment rate on the high crime rate?
FS: You may have heard the expression “a hungry man is an angry man.” Unemployment is also contributing significantly to crime since most of the people who commit crimes are not necessarily unemployed, but they are either employed but not earning a decent salary, or they are totally unemployed. Unemployment is definitely affecting the livelihoods of many people in this region.
NE: The public and some politicians say consideration is needed on the issue of closing illegal shebeens due to the high unemployment rate. While some shebeens might be illegal they are keeping people off the streets and from indulging in criminal activities, paying for children school fees, etc. What is your view on this?
FS: I am a commander and when I am commanding I truly know what to do. So there are those that think that you can commit a crime to gain bread, but I do not advocate poisoning the nation to get bread. What I am advocating for is a program that can be employed so that people can get employment. And then we can keep on building our country not on the back of alcohol, but rather on other kinds of businesses. Alcohol is often consumed for relaxation and if used correctly it can also be used to entertain people. But as for me, I am saying that if there could be any other activities, it will be better than getting school fees from alcohol.
NE: Is the operation on enforcing liquor licence Act not discriminating against the previously disadvantaged? Why police only in the poor neighborhoods of Katutura? What operation do the police have in the predominantly white suburbs, where there are outlets selling liquor 24/7?
FS: We have got some operations even though they are limited, as I said before, we have a problem with resources that include manpower. I cannot be everywhere every time. We do not have a bar that is selling 24/7, they all close at four o’clock and others close at two o’clock. Every bar that is not going to close on time, we are going to make sure that we punish it.
NE: Do they all close at 04:00 a.m.?
FS: They should close at 04:00 a.m. yes. Those that are operating on extended still have to produce their licences and then we can reason with the Liquor Board if we have grounds to justify limiting or restricting their operating hours. But what is happening now is that we are looking at the whole of Khomas. And also just to inform you, we are not going to get everything right in one day. I only started here 6 months ago, so we should be patient. I am not going to touch the whole City of Windhoek in these few months.
NE: What happens to the liquor you confiscate?
FS: The liquor that is confiscated by the police is presented to the court as exhibits or evidence. And then after the finalisation of the case, the court may order the police to either return it to the owner or to dispose of it as we are disposing other proceeds of crime.
NE: Any other information that you would like to share with us?
FS: People should understand very well, because I realise that the majority of them are politicising this whole issue of alcohol and the implementation of the laws of the country. Some are saying that the Liquor Act is implemented to dirty the Swapo government, and some are saying it was done to do what what! But this is a law that was passed in 1998 and it was amended on several occasions. So enforcing it is for the wellbeing of the people and if it’s not in the wellbeing of the people, the leaders should come up and go to our senior leaders for the law to be amended until it is the interest of the people.
Now, calling us names and whatever is not helpful. People should remember that we fought for this country. We offered up our lives life to this country. And we are ready to defend it. That’s why we want to amend these laws and when we are applying these laws, we read the provisions of the laws, what provisions do we have when it comes to negotiations. In most cases we do not have any room for negotiation.
So they should stop insulting us and link us to politics. We are not elected leaders we are professional police officers who are ready to die for this country anytime, to die upholding the laws of this country. All that we are doing is rooted in the laws of this country. The police are apolitical that is why they should not politicize the laws. If they have concerns regarding any law, they should approach political leaders.