Municipal ‘War on Vandals’ a Farce – Editorial with Prof Jeff Robinson

The piece in The Citizen (19 August 2011) titled “R180 000 to clean up wall” once again tried to use gross figures to squeeze much needed support from the rate payers of the Durban Metro.

Read below what Durban Metro rate-payer, Professor Jeff Robinson of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) Music Faculty, discovered when he dug a bit deeper into the issue of THE CITY SPENDING RATES MONEY ON VANDALISM.  After reading about the incident involving the seven artists charged with MI2P (Malicious Intent To Property) Robinson has this to say:

“While I have clear and strong views on the absurdity of the police action, most of these have already been well articulated by other contributors. What I want to draw attention to is the gross INattention of our municipal law enforcement bodies to contraventions of municipal and national bylaws, policies and prohibitions that actually do have negative impacts, aesthetically and environmentally. To catch the culprits in these cases is dead-easy; there is no need for ‘special investigators’’’.

Firstly let us take the issue of advertising signage. The municipality has clear and unambiguous regulations in this regard, yet look at how many campaign posters from the 18 May elections can still be seen around Durban even though they were by law to have been removed no later than 14 days after the election (i.e. 1 June 2011). The remnants of many of these will be with us for a very long time given that two of the political parties chose to paste their posters to public walls and other surfaces with an adhesive. This is defined as ‘bill-sticking’ and is expressly prohibited in the eThekwini Municipality Advertising Signage Policy(2005). The prohibition on ‘bill-sticking’ applies to all forms of advertising and yet we find contraventions just about everywhere we turn in Durban. The accompanying photos were taken at or near the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Identifying the perpetrators is easy, but have any of them been charged or fined?

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What is a far more serious ‘neglect of duty’ on the part of municipal law enforcement is the failure to bring to book contraveners of the Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act (1983) which makes clear that ‘Category 1’ invasive alien plants ‘may not occur on any land or inland water surface other than in biological control reserves’. Most people of oblivious of the degree of invasion by such plants and this is probably good news for the municipality given that it is the landowner guiltiest of contravening this regulation.  Through neglect, large tracts of municipal land have become the hothouses from which the cancer proliferates. Just take a drive along Grosvenor Rd. (off Rick Turner) to get a sense of what I’m talking about. You can easily tick off at least 10 Category 1’s (e.g. Chromolaena, Lantana, Bugweed, Brazilian Pepper, Mexican Sunflower, Balloon Vine, Inkberry, Guava, etc.), not to mention the only somewhat less problematic Category 2s and 3s (Syringa, Jacaranda, False Umdoni, etc.). ”

Robinson has pointed out what many consider to be the “double-standards” or even lack of standards that the municipality has displayed in targeting these seven youth for their actions that fateful Sunday.  One can see why many supporters of these artists believe that they have been abused as a collective soft-target in the municipalities much trumpeted “war on vandalism” that is apparently costing us all so much.  It would be interesting to see this type of “zero tolerance” approach being applied to the perpetrators of the acts Robinson describes above. 

We would welcome ANY response from the municipality in this matter.


Posted on August 28, 2011, in Editorial, Prof Jeff Robinson and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. Exactly Jeff!! What about littering as well? How much does the city have to spend on cleaning up the streets everyday? How difficult would it be to actually impose on the spot fines to people who drop their trash in the street or even worse throw it out moving cars? No PI’s needed for this either. Begs the question again, why so much focus on graffiti, legal and illegal? Check out clinical psychologist Mandy Kok’s article going up on this blog tomorrow to see her professional take on it. Minor ‘victory’ on a soft target to make themselves feel important and validate all that spending…

  2. Rhyan rocking rolling rudman

    So in simple terms if you in charge you can break the law when and how it suits you, and if you are a large organization you can also get away with vandalism.

  3. The professor has a point regarding the enforcement of all by-laws, however the lack of enforcement of one does not justify the lack of enforcement of the other. The fact remains that Graffiti while arguably an art form still constitutes vandalism should it be put on somebody’s property with out their permission. It is that simple really. And it matters not what other laws are not being enforced, a law broken is a law broken.

  4. Well said Prof.
    Not sure what the plants had to do with it, but well said!

  5. THANK YOU Stryder.
    What a bizarre argument – the police are slack in some areas so they shouldn’t have arrested the graffiti people??
    So the police driving down the road that day who saw people painting on a wall that did not belong to them (obviously we all know the reason why, and that the graffiti peeps thought they had permission bla bla) should have thought hmmmm let’s not arrest them because look there are still campaign posters up. What a ridiculous suggestion. OBVIOUSLY it was not the duty of the members on patrol to drive around pulling down those posters. They saw them committing a crime, despite how pretty it might have looked, and they were arrested accordingly. Their reasons for painting the wall and the misunderstanding of ownership is only relevant in court, and up to court to decide whether to dismiss the case and not hold them accountable. Until then the charge stands. I’m sure EVERY SINGLE graffiti painter caught has offered up some excuse of how their mate gave them permission to paint the wall, it was diligent of the cops not to be swayed by their protests. They were arrested accordingly. The inability to justly see the very clear and simple ‘other side’ of this issue and the very apparent narrow-mindedness in the above article is quite shocking. Makes you wonder…

    • Rose I think again you’ve misunderstood the whole situation! the fact is that that the police force had employed private investigators at I’m sure a large amount of tax people’s money to catch these artists that A) had permission to paint the wall, B) It was advertised as a public event, C) they were painting in broad daylight!!! ( I can assure you if this was illegal they would not be painting in the middle of the day for everyone to see them). How can government afford to be spending money on unnecessary private investigators to catch legal graffiti artists when money could be spent implementing and enforcing laws that they have been slack on!

    • Thanks Rose. To extend the argument further; until illegal plant species are removed we should not arrest anybody for anything. Ludicrous really.

    • No where in the article was it implied that because certain by-laws are not being policed the vandals should get off aswell. Infact the closing statement talks about ‘zero tolerance’ which means that if you break the law be it a graffiti artist, goverment campaign posters, advertising companies or even a gardener who likes foreign plants you must face the penalty. I think we should all take more time to understand something or someone (maybe by reading an article twice) before we just start trying to make our uninformed opinion heard over everybody else’s, its childish.

  6. Or, to further Rose and Stryders argument, because the government doesn’t do anything about these other crimes we shouldn’t give a shit when they pick on the soft targets.

    We should actually ignore it all and respond with righteous indignation to anyone who suggests that environmental crime might be as serious if not MORE serious an issue these days as KIDS PAINTING A MURAL.

    Roses inability to justly see the very clear and simple ‘other side’ of this issue and the very apparent narrow-mindedness in her above response is quite shocking. Makes you wonder…

    • Ewok, if you had read my post you will see that I state quite clearly that all of these violations should be enforced, nevertheless it could be argued, using the same logic as the prof., that murderers are being victimised when arrested because cars got away with speeding.

    • I don’t think I was clear enough. Ewok you said;”…because the government doesn’t do anything about these other crimes we shouldn’t give a shit when they pick on the soft targets. ” Soft targets? If someone commits a crime they commit a crime. So no we shouldn’t “give a shit” when they pick on the so-called soft targets. We should however “give a shit” that they other laws are not being enforced and should be campaigning for that to happen as a separate issue (because that is what it is), what I cannot accept is the attempt to divert attention from the alleged vandalism that was committed by using the fact that other laws were not enforced. Environmental crime is also serious, but has nothing to do with graffiti. I must commend you on your valiant attempt to twist my statements though.

  7. All these negatives can be turned into postives.

  8. Cheers Stryder,
    here’s some more valiant twisting:

    No one is attempting to divert any attention from the “alleged vandalism”. The problem is that there is NO ATTENTION GIVEN to these other crimes, anywhere, in any form, whereas ANYTIME an alleged act of vandalism is perpetrated it makes the papers.

    The sensationalist nature of the media attention given to these artists, as well as the money obviously spent in hiring private services to “catch” them, is disproportionate to their alleged “crime”.

    We have seen once again how easily the public can be misguided to conclude that aerosol artists are actually all criminals and should be treated as such, a view that you must agree is entirely wrong and qualifies to a degree as unjust victimization, yet when a very clear and easily identifiable crime is committed (e.g. illegal plant species or illegal bill sticking) there is no response, either from the media OR the Metro, until some concerned citizen raises the subject.

    Let me help you with this one – “Soft targets”: someone rapes a seven year old child = crime; someone marks a wall that doesn’t belong to them = crime but a man who sticks his dick into a helpless kid isn’t operating at the same level of criminality as a kid with a can surely?

    There has been a clear intention in all of the statements made by the Metro to convince the public that this is a fight that is being fought on behalf of the rate-payers of Durban, a propaganda tactic employed by an authority that is more concerned with its public image then any kind of equal justice. The cops have to look like they are doing something about “crime” so they nail the artists, charge them with vandalism, and the crime statistics look a bit better. Soft targets as in they weren’t running away coz they weren’t doing anything wrong. Soft Targets as in they weren’t shooting at the cops who were arresting them. Soft Targets as in their “crime” didn’t hurt anyone or anything other then people’s sense of ownership.

    If this article has served to further highlight the double standards and lack of focus of both the police force and the media then once again I applaud it for its purpose.

  9. Fully bro, we are totally on the same page with that, hitting up a wall without permission is definitely a criminal act.

    The frustration really comes from having been, a number of times, on the receiving end of unchecked aggression and ego-tripping officers while doing absolutely nothing wrong!

    A good example is our “yin-yang” wall that we painted a couple weeks back in Glenwood, also on a Sunday. Cops rolled up, and despite seeing the permission slip, despite actually speaking to the owner who gave us permission, despite there being a small crowd of various community members watching us paint, the officers STILL felt compelled to tell us to stop smiling and that “we wouldn’t have those grins on our faces when we were in the back of the van”.

    We know that when we are doing something wrong and we get busted then we are busted, but where the hell does it leave us when even when we have tried to go out of our way to do everything right we STILL get harrassed?

    Anyhow, it isn’t your fault, and thanks for engaging on this topic. The more people who try and understand the better it is for us all.

    Peace, stay safe…

    • I get it Ewok. I guess I am just a bit straight laced sometimes. 🙂 Cops get such a bad rap, but then you get the idiots like you described making it difficult for the good guys. I definitely have a broader view of this issue after our discussion. Shot.

  10. Firstly, in case I am accused of padding my cv, I am not a Professor, just a lowly lecturer. My contribution may seem a bit tangential, especially re invasive alien plants, but I was certainly not trying to argue that no criminal should be prosecuted unless all are. That indeed is ludicrous. What I was really trying to highlight was what strikes me as an absurd selectivity and lack of proportion in what gets attended to by our law-enforcement agents. Sadly, almost no-one takes the issue of invasive alien plants seriously even though it is a far greater problem than graffiti vandalism or bill-sticking.

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