Po­lice, City Coun­cil dis­tance them­selves for sur­veil­lance de­vice

Observer on Saturday - - Front Page - By Sicelo Maziya

Mys­tery sur­rounds the own­er­ship of a sur­veil­lance cam­era in the mid­dle of the Mba­bane Bus Rank.

The gad­get is also un­known by Mu­nic­i­pal Coun­cil of Mba­bane.

A few peo­ple who were ques­tioned at the bus rank were all un­aware of the sur­veil­lance cam­era, they thought it was just the ad­di­tional light­ing sys­tem be­cause there is one high mast light­ing pole in the cap­i­tal city’s bus rank.

Ex­perts say video sur­veil­lance by na­ture has a dis­tress­ing ef­fect to pub­lic life and the grow­ing pres­ence of such pub­lic cam­eras will bring re­strained but in­tense changes to the be­hav­iour of peo­ple in pub­lic space.

The pub­lic or cit­i­zens be­ing watched with­out their con­sent by any author­ity or just the thought that they might be watched at any time makes them more in­se­cure and less free-wheel­ing.


Ef­forts to get the owner of the sur­veil­lance gad­get in the mid­dle of the town has proved to be a chal­lenge as the own­ers of the Mba­bane Bus Rank, the Mu­nic­i­pal Coun­cil of Mba­bane, was not aware of the gad­get on their prop­erty.

Mu­nic­i­pal­ity Pub­lic Re­la­tions Of­fi­cer Lucky Ts­abedze said the gad­get does not be­long to them and they were yet to con­firm the owner.

Con­cern goes be­yond the own­er­ship with in­ter­viewed cit­i­zens won­der­ing where that footage is taken to and for what pur­pose of sur­veil­lance.

Po­lice In­for­ma­tion and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Of­fi­cer Khu­lani Mamba also dis­tanced the po­lice from such a gad­get.


“We are not in the habit of hid­ing spy or sur­veil­lance cam­eras. Wher­ever we in­stal one we en­sure that its ex­is­tence is known. For in­stance when we up­graded our emer­gency sys­tem (999), we did ex­plain the fea­tures it now has, in­clud­ing be­ing able to mon­i­tor the traf­fic flow from busy cities.

“We will in­ves­ti­gate this mat­ter and we will know soon who has put it up,” Mamba said. In First World metropo­lis like Lon­don, Frank­furt, New York, Wash­ing­ton, Paris, in­clud­ing neigh­bour­ing Jo­han­nes­burg, sur­veil­lance cam­eras have be­come help­ful in iden­ti­fy­ing so­phis­ti­cated crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties and ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­i­ties.

Some of the ter­ror­ists in Lon­don, Manch­ester and Ger­many were picked from sur­veil­lance cam­eras.

Such gad­gets have their good side when in proper hands and can be mis­used if they fall on wrong hands es­pe­cially of those who have evil in­ten­tions.


Ex­perts study­ing how the cam­era sys­tems are op­er­ated have also found that male (and prob­a­bly bored) op­er­a­tors fre­quently use cam­eras to voyeuris­ti­cally spy on women. Sta­tis­tics show that one in 10 women were tar­geted for en­tirely voyeuris­tic rea­sons. Ad­vanced sur­veil­lance sys­tems such as CCTV need to be sub­ject to checks and bal­ances. Be­cause the tech­nol­ogy has evolved so quickly, how­ever, checks and bal­ances to pre­vent the kinds of abuses out­lined above don’t ex­ist. Ex­perts con­firm that his­tory has shown that sur­veil­lance tech­nolo­gies put in place for one pur­pose in­evitably ex­pand into other uses. With video tech­nol­ogy likely to con­tinue ad­vanc­ing, the lack of any clear bound­aries for what CCTV sys­tems should be able to do pose a sig­nif­i­cant dan­ger.

In­sti­tu­tional abuse also some­times plays its ugly face, bad poli­cies are set at the top, and an en­tire law en­force­ment agency is turned to­ward abu­sive ends.


That is es­pe­cially bound to hap­pen in pe­ri­ods of so­cial tur­moil and in­tense con­flict over gov­ern­ment poli­cies.

Such cam­eras are prom­i­nent in ar­eas where the crime rate is high and it is al­ways said it helps po­lice to have more eyes in those spe­cific ar­eas.

The mys­tery cam­era is placed at the bus rank in a 360 de­gree mo­bile and mon­i­tored around the clock by the owner.

The cam­era is not hid­den, in­stead it is at­tached to a power pole some 20 to 30 me­tres high, perched at the busy bus rank.

(Pics: Sicelo Maziya)

ALL SEE­ING BIG BROTHER: An aerial view of the Mba­bane Bus Rank. The pic­tures are from a mys­te­ri­ous sur­veil­lance gad­get (inset) which is also un­known to the Mu­nic­i­pal Coun­cil of Mba­bane.

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