Nhleko steps up to bat
For once, nobody was laughing at Nathi Nhleko. The nation listened attentively as the police minister spoke about the steps that government would be taking to implement the recommendations of the Farlam inquiry into the Marikana massacre. There were no gaffes on his part – no drenching of his handkerchief with rivers of perspiration and no strange videos. He was serious and the content was serious. Given how he shredded his reputation with the handling of the Nkandla matter and the record of government in implementing undertakings, the temptation to be cynical would be great.
The cynicism would go along the lines of: Three years after the massacre, five months after retired Judge Ian Farlam handed the report to President Jacob Zuma, two months after the public release of the findings and the only substantial action is the announcement of a yet-to-be constituted panel on public policing that will take 15 months to complete its work and an unnamed task team to oversee transformation? Such cynicism would be justified given there are some no-brainer measures that could already have been embarked upon while the commission was sitting.
For instance, the demilitarisation and professionalisation of the police service was recommended by the National Development Plan in November 2011. The massacre eight months later should have expedited its implementation.
The removal of assault rifles and live ammunition from public order policing should have been an obvious and immediate step. The proliferation of protests – more than 10 000 a year – should have seen more proactive action around retraining and upskilling public order police.
But as indicated, we believe this is no time for cynicism. Nhleko has taken on board the commission’s findings (if only he could have done the same with the Public Protector’s) and he must be supported in their implementation. Business, civil society, academia and the religious sector must assist government in building a professional, responsive and ethical police service. For his part, Nhleko and his colleagues must welcome help and not treat outsiders with suspicion.
This nation will carry the Marikana scars for decades to come and some may never heal. Let us use this opportunity to build a police service that serves all and put behind us the killing culture that the service inherited from its predecessors.