Ian Cameron: Who exactly is Bheki Cele’s new nemesis?

07 July 2022 - 15:28
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Action Society director of community safety, Ian Cameron, was ejected from a function attended by police minister Bheki Cele in Cape Town on Tuesday.
Action Society director of community safety, Ian Cameron, was ejected from a function attended by police minister Bheki Cele in Cape Town on Tuesday.
Image: Screengrab via live feed/Twitter

The low conviction rate in gender-based violence cases is the driving force behind civic activist Ian Cameron’s critical review of police minister Bheki Cele’s track record.  

Cameron is director of community safety at a recently established non-profit organisation, Action Society, which helps victims of violent crime who do not have the financial means to get legal counsel. 

The organisation’s focus is on the fight for reform in the justice system and to put pressure on the government, especially when it comes to gender-based violence, Cameron told TimesLIVE on Thursday. 

Until Tuesday, Cameron was not well known to most South Africans but he’s come to the fore after Cele berated him at a meeting in Cape Town. “This thing just exploded [on social media]. I’ve had little negative response, it’s been overwhelmingly supportive,” said Cameron.

Cele was in Gugulethu attending a community policing engagement when Cameron spoke during a question-and-answer session after other community members had raised concerns about crime in the area.

Cameron’s comments that communities had to do the work of the police appeared to be the final straw for the minister. Cele, who felt he was being disrespected, spoke about how his parents were treated during apartheid and his own history of fighting the injustice of that era. Cele shouted “shut up” at Cameron before officials removed him from the premises.

“I don’t think I’ve been carried by anyone since I was a child. It was the first time in many years my elbows have touched like that,” Cameron said, adding that police had their handcuffs at the ready when a senior officer told them to stand down. He intends opening a case against the police officers involved. 

On the event which inspired this action, Cameron said he did not have a personal issue with Cele but rather with the position he occupied.

“There’s a time and place for everything. I’m not concerned with his political credentials. It’s personal and we need to respect that. The problem I have is him confusing politics with crime.”

If put in the same position, he said he’d stand up again if needed.   

Referring to the murder of Siphokazi Booi and the trial, which Action Society has appointed a lawyer to maintain a watching brief on, he said: “I won’t be sensitive. While we’re at a scene where someone was burnt in a bin, there’s no time for pussyfooting.

“You can call it disrespecting, but I think him going off on a rant was disrespectful. I want him to go and speak to victims of crime - to go on patrol with parents scared of [having their children murdered]. I don’t see him doing that. 

“I listened to what he said and there were 12 people before me. 

“I put up my hand and the questions I wanted to ask him were about resources in Gugulethu, where there are 642 people per cop. We need to more than double the capacity. Most detectives are sitting with over 300 dockets - it’s impossible to properly see every one of those cases through.

“But Cele had made derogatory remarks about neighbourhood watch - and I just got worked up. He’s speaking down to people who are doing the work which police should be doing. Most of these people are women who sometimes go out on their own to keep the streets safe.”

The 32-year-old is married and is the father of two young girls. He was born in Kempton Park and moved with his family to live in the UK when he was six, but said he had always wanted to come back to SA to get involved in the criminal justice system.

Cameron studied police science at Unisa and has done courses  at the University of the North West, New York fire department and Montana department of forestry. He said he has also completed a certificate in local government through the University of Pretoria.

I did several incident command courses to assist in the handling of large-scale emergencies like the July riots. 

“I ended up working for AfriForum for 10 years, many as head of community safety. Our focus was farm attacks. As a team we would follow up and support victims to ensure workers and farmers got the necessary counselling. But it became politicised and I got frustrated.”

He said working against gender-based violence wasn’t a choice - it was just the crime he happened upon the most.

“The fight is about the alarming rate of violent rapes and murders which we are seeing, especially against children. 

“I think of Wilmien Potgieter, aged two, who was shot and killed on her farm in the Free State. Of Chantelle Makwena, 5, who was raped, murdered and dumped in a pit latrine. Of my wife and two daughters and their safety.

He said he liked to mention the names of victims because South Africans  had become insensitive to violent crime. 

“I don’t think people understand at what a young age these children are exposed to violence. The other day in Khayelitsha we left a scene where a woman was stabbed with a screwdriver 100m from where five people were shot dead. When we left we came across a man who had just been shot in the head. Not 10m away were children playing like nothing had happened. We visited a school in Mitchells Plain and we heard gunshots - the children just kept playing like everything was normal.

“This leads to the frustration with Bheki Cele. The conviction rate for sexual offences is around 10% and less than one in five sexual offences make it to trial.”

Cameron said there was a backlog of 5,000 sexual offences cases and only one in nine cases were reported.

Action Society officially opened in 2021 and is supported by 3,000 members who donate monthly. Its Action Central relies on big donors and funding has been guaranteed for the next 24 months. 

Cameron said the organisation was focusing on the prosecution processes to ensure convictions. 

“Personally I believe [society] should be less dependent on the government or state . In the last decade we’ve become a welfare state - we need to take ownership. There are remedies and things we can do ourselves and shouldn’t allow the government to hold the monopoly on [combating] crime.”

As for his new prominence on the public stage, he joked: “Social media moves very fast and it’s easy to have misconceptions about a person. I learnt a lot of things about myself on social media.”  


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