Flippant cynicism while police misconduct thrives unchecked
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