Flip­pant cyn­i­cism while po­lice mis­con­duct thrives unchecked

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES -

IT WAS lost against the back­ground clam­our of the World Cup. Moses Dlamini of the po­lice over­sight body, the In­de­pen­dent Com­plaints Di­rec­torate, said that the ICD man­date was “to in­ves­ti­gate crimes, not labour is­sues”.

His flip­pant com­ment was the re­sponse to com­mu­nity fury over the fact that four po­lice­men were still on duty af­ter shoot­ing dead three Dur­ban broth­ers, al­leged house­break­ers.

Dlamini’s re­mark was breath­tak­ingly cyn­i­cal, but it en­cap­su­lates the im­po­tence of the ICD in deal­ing with claims of po­lice mis­con­duct and crim­i­nal­ity.

The sus­pen­sion of South African Po­lice Ser­vice of­fi­cers is at the sole dis­cre­tion of SAPS it­self, which will con­duct its own, usu­ally leisurely, in­ves­ti­ga­tion into what hap­pened.

ICD in­ves­ti­ga­tions head Tommy Tsha­bal­ala said it was “very dif­fi­cult” to say when the ICD in­ves­ti­ga­tion would be com­pleted, but that it should be able to make a rec­om­men­da­tion on pros­e­cu­tion in the next two months.

Fran­cois Beuk­man, a for mer ANC MP who was ap­pointed ICD ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor late last year, flew to Dur­ban to dampen the anger. He said the case was “a very se­ri­ous mat­ter” and that if the po­lice had acted il­le­gally, they would “face the full might of the law”.

It may be that for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons this par­tic­u­lar case is in­deed fast-tracked. To most vic­tims of po­lice mis­con­duct, how­ever, Beuk­man’s words will sound hol­low, for the statis­tics paint an ap­palling pic­ture. The ICD, with fewer than a 100 in­ves­ti­ga­tors, an­nu­ally deals with around 6 000 com­plaints of po­lice tor­ture, rape, as­sault and un­law­ful death. By March 2009, the most re­cent ICD re­port to Par­lia­ment, it had ac­cu­mu­lated a back­log of 5 174 cases from pre­vi­ous years.

Al­though ap­prox­i­mately a fifth of com­plaints to the ICD are sub­stan­ti­ated, in 2008/09 – dur­ing which SAPS shot dead 556 sus­pects, of whom at least 32 were in­no­cent by­standers – the ICD se­cured only 38 crim­i­nal con­vic­tions. A tiny por­tion of the more than a thou­sand of­fi­cers are cur­rently jailed.

Many of­fences, rang­ing from ne­glect of du­ties to as­sault, rape and at­tempted murder, are dealt with in SAPS de­part­men­tal hear­ings, where “a sanc­tion of rep­ri­mand ap­pears to be com­monly ap­plied re­gard­less of the na­ture of the charge”, the ICD notes rue­fully.

In 2008 the ICD in­ves­ti­gated 830 of­fi­cers in KwaZulu-Natal alone, of whom 174 were al­legedly in­volved in deaths in cus­tody. It se­cured only one con­vic­tion.

From par­lia­men­tary ques­tions by the DA, it tran­spires that 90 per­cent of ICD rec­om­men­da­tions to the SAPS are sim­ply ig­nored. Of those that are ac­knowl­edged, the SAPS com­plies with the rec­om­men­da­tion barely half of the time.

The ICD is swim­ming against a po­lit­i­cal tide. Af­ter more than a decade of de­nial over South Africa’s eye-pop­ping in­ci­dence of crime, the ANC un­der its new pres­i­dent, Ja­cob Zuma, de­cided to smother the prob­lem with a blan­ket of blue serge. It si­mul­ta­ne­ously slipped the leash of civil­ian over­sight of the po­lice.

Over the past cou­ple of years po­lice num­bers have in­creased by about a quar­ter and will soon reach 205 000 of­fi­cers, of whom more than 90 per­cent have a rank higher than that of con­sta­ble.

Re­vers­ing the post-apartheid de­mil­i­tari­sa­tion of the po­lice started in 1994, the SAPS is now reintroducing mil­i­tary ranks and will once more be­come a “force” to be reck­oned with, rather than a “ser­vice” to de­pend upon.

Then there is the “shoot to kill” re­sponse to the in­creas­ingly brazen killing of po­lice of­fi­cers. This pol­icy may ap­pal the in­tel­li­gentsia, but prob­a­bly a ma­jor­ity of South Africans ap­plaud what they view as the nec­es­sar­ily ruth­less mop­ping up of a vir­u­lently in­va­sive scum.

It is to pro­tect democ­racy against such be­guil­ing but un­for­tu­nately delu­sion­ary pop­ulist no­tions that in­sti­tu­tions like the ICD were cre­ated.

ICD site: www.icd.gov.za 2008/09 ICD re­port: http://www. info.gov.za/view/Down­load­FileAc­tion?id=122222

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