Metro cops slammed over festival chaos
● Ineptitude, negligence and “dereliction of duty” by the Johannesburg metro police department (JMPD) have been blamed for the chaos and violence that followed last Sunday’s Global Citizen Festival.
The JMPD’s bungling — which began with officers arriving nearly seven hours late to start closing roads around FNB Stadium — could see truant officers and those who called the shots criminally charged under legislation put in place after the 2001 Ellis Park disaster in which 43 people died.
Road closures were supposed to begin at midnight on Saturday, but sources said by 9am on Sunday many JMPD officers were still not on duty, and by noon private security guards were summoned in an attempt to stabilise a “chaotic” situation.
The Sunday Times has established that a detailed traffic management plan — which had been used for earlier concerts and soccer derbies at FNB Stadium — was abandoned by JMPD officers in command.
After 58 heads of state and celebrities were safely escorted from the concert, helpless festivalgoers stranded in gridlocked traffic faced brazen attacks by criminals who “lurked like wolves” with no police in sight.
Chief superintendent Wayne Minnaar of the JMPD declined to respond in detail to the charges, saying only that they had been “escalated to parliament”. The City of Johannesburg denied that officers did anything wrong.
But several sources said the failure of metro police to implement road closures and the traffic management plan was the catalyst for what went wrong. They said:
● Certain roads were not closed at prescribed times;
● Resources were not deployed to key locations at prescribed times;
● A dedicated three-lane entry and exit traffic plan on Nasrec Road was not implemented;
● Critical road closures were changed, preventing buses accessing dedicated routes; and
● Critical roads that had been closed were reopened prematurely.
As a result, incoming traffic met the outgoing traffic and the gridlock took several hours to untangle. Concertgoers could not connect with transport operators and law enforcement officials could not adequately respond to criminal incidents.
Jacques Grobbelaar, CEO of Stadium Management SA, which runs FNB Stadium, said the JMPD had arrived late and its departure from the plan was “criminal”.
The department was supposed to start closing roads at midnight, he said, but the first officers only arrived after 6am. This was confirmed by several sources, as well as by City of Johannesburg mayoral committee member for safety Michael Sun, who said the JMPD started its operations at 6am.
Grobbelaar said: “They never followed the plans and, by their inaction, placed innocent lives at risk. The plan was signed off by the relevant authorities, and once that is done you cannot deviate from it because ultimately all parties are responsible for their specific areas.”
Grobbelaar said “many” of the 236 JMPD officers assigned to the event were still not on duty by 9am.
A source within the event organising structure, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the JMPD was supposed to implement road closures on Saturday night.
“They were supposed to deploy officers and they were supposed to keep road closures in place,” said the source.
“They didn’t do that. They failed to implement all of this. When the s**t hit the fan they inexplicably moved road closures, cut
all the buses off and put them into the traffic gridlock.
“Criminal elements lingering around the site were sitting there like wolves waiting for sheep to be at their mercy.”
Justin van Wyk, the CEO of event promoter Big Concerts, said he had written to the South African Police Service (SAPS) to request a formal investigation.
“It has been established that the traffic management plan was not adhered to, certain roads were not closed at prescribed times and critical road closures were prematurely removed after the event. The collective result was that the traffic management system failed,” he said.
“A collaborative effort between government and the private sector is required to restore the country’s reputation as a major events destination and to ensure that this never happens again.”
The Safety at Sports & Recreational Events Act, which was passed after 43 people were crushed at a Soweto derby at Ellis Park, makes provision for criminal charges against any parties that fail to mitigate and manage risks.
Sources told the Sunday Times the act could be used against JMPD officials and the national head of public order policing, Maj Gen Zeph Mkhwanazi, the “authorised member” of the event safety and security planning committee.
Grobbelaar has written to sports minister Tokozile Xasa requesting a judicial commission of inquiry into the chaos and the application of the act.
Sun said claims that JMPD officers arrived late or left early were untrue. “JMPD reported for duty from 6am on December 2 and remained on site until 7am on December 3. The actual and complete stand-down by JMPD was beyond 7am, whereafter the usual JMPD functions, such as traffic management, bylaw enforcement and crime prevention, continued.
“JMPD adhered to the traffic management plan which was approved by [the event safety committee]. There is no evidence that JMPD or any of the City of Johannesburg structures made any deviation from the said traffic management plan.”
Sun said he was concerned about reports from the JMPD that the stadium’s supplier did not deliver road closure equipment and fencing on time.
“We are further concerned of the report from JMPD that the SAPS presidential protection service overruled JMPD in vehicular access control, which contributed further to the traffic congestion.”
SAPS spokesperson Brig Vish Naidoo denied that festival security plans had been changed on the day. He declined to answer specific questions about the event management plan.
Uber driver Beaton Wanjani said: “It came down to private security guards to try and direct the traffic. The metro police were useless. Every soccer game and concert they are there but this time there were hardly any, and those that were, were doing nothing.” Additional reporting by Leonie Wagner