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31 October 2014 08:37 (South Africa)
South Africa

IPID: A watchdog with teeth that can't eat all the crime

  • Greg Nicolson
  • South Africa
greg-IPID-subbedm.jpg

Once again police have allegedly killed protesters fighting for their constitutional right to basic services. This time it was in Mothutlung, North West, but instances of criminal acts committed by the police continue to be reported regularly. GREG NICOLSON looks at the watchdog established to police the police, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID).

The IPID website offers a glimpse of the watchdog in action. The latest news dates back to October 2013. IPID is investigating complaints against police commissioner Riah Phiyega. A warrant officer was found guilty of assaulting a woman. Two cops were arrested for allegedly gang-raping a woman in Tshwane. Investigations are under way into allegations of torturing Radovan Krejcir. And in December, a constable was convicted on charges of rape, robbery and kidnapping in 2011 and 2012 around Johannesburg.

The allegations against police, however, are much more frequent. The Monday news referred to multiple instances of crimes committed by police officers. On New Year's Day police are accused of shooting and killing a gangster in cold blood. In the aftermath of the holiday death toll on the roads, it was reported that there are 200 cases of corruption committed by police being investigated related to drunk driving. Four cops were arrested when a suspect died in custody on Christmas day. IPID has been asked to look into the death of Tshwane informal trader Foster Jan Rivambo, allegedly killed by police last week after an altercation over his stock of fruit and vegetables.

Then came Mothutlung, North West, where two people died on Monday as police responded to a protest over water. (Two others were seriously wounded.) On Tuesday, a protester was reportedly thrown (fell, said the cops) from a Nyala, causing serious injuries. Memories of deaths in Marikana, Andries Tatane, Cato Crest, and lesser known deaths like that in Elias Motsoaledi, Soweto, were remembered.

IPID is charged to investigate these deaths. The cases represent the ultimate charges against the state, when those mandated to uphold public safety, the pointy end of the monopolisation of violence, turn their power against the citizens they are supposed to protect.

In her 2013 book, Crossing the line: When cops become criminals, Liza Grobler explains the shift between the Independent Complaints Directorate and IPID, established in 2012. The new organisation received new powers established by an Act separate from the one that governs police. IPID investigates deaths in police custody, deaths resulting from police action, cops accused of rape, police torture, executive police corruption, and systemic corruption in the SAPS.

Over a series of interviews with various police sources, Grobler found differing opinions on the success of IPID. Some respondents said the organisation cannot be independent since its head is appointed by politicians. Others criticised its lack of investigative capabilities. There were positive comments saying police do report crimes committed by fellow cops and anyone who doesn't cooperate or hides evidence is guilty of a crime.

In the 2012/13 year, 6,728 cases were reported to IPID, the majority of them being assault allegations. The list includes other serious charges such as deaths in custody (275), rape by a police officer (146) and torture (50). Including the backlog from previous years, IPID was working on 7,277 cases over 2012/13. Of those, only 54% were completed. Some 1,088 cases were referred to the National Prosecuting Authority, resulting in 57 criminal convictions.

A total of 20 officers were dismissed after disciplinary proceedings.

Speaking at a forum last year, IPID spokesperson Moses Dlamini made it clear that the SAPS needs its own effective disciplinary measures. “IPID is not the solution for police brutality because we are a reactive agency. SAPS needs to review its disciplinary processes and the sanctions and suspensions it imposes,” he said. IPID is an outside agency, but critics have said the SAPS needs its own internal mechanisms to deal effectively with police issues, which is currently lacking and often results in weak internal punishments.

Dr Johan Burger from the Institute of Security Studies said on Tuesday it's too early to judge IPID's effectiveness. The legislation which established the organisation expanded its mandate from the ICD and established its independence and was welcomed, giving some confidence, he said. “In that sense IPID has improved a lot.” But the organisation is still under-resourced.

IPID had a budget of R217 million for 2013/14 and that will rise to almost R250 million by 2016. But there are still serious problems with staff and investigating capabilities. While presenting the 2013 strategic plan to Parliament, it was revealed that KwaZulu-Natal has an IPID to police ratio of 1 to 1,007, Western Cape 1 to 985 and Gauteng 1 to 1,398. Budget constraints and police protecting their own create problems in investigations, the meeting heard.

Then there's the issue of leadership. After police were involved in the killing of 34 mineworkers in Marikana, IPID head Francois Beukman resigned in September 2012 and Koekie Mbeki has been acting head since. Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa recently nominated Robert McBride, famous for evading criminal charges while in charge of the Ekurhuleni metro cops, to lead the organisation. “I am extremely worried about his appointment,” Burger told Daily Maverick on Tuesday. Parliament is set to debate the nomination on 28 January.

In her book, Grobler speaks to convicted officers who detail systematic abuse by police officers. Most of the accounts refer to cops enriching themselves, from a cold drink here and there to drug running, collaborating with gangs, robbery, drug and alcohol abuse, assault, copper theft, and tampering with evidence. She paints a picture of a system in crisis needing immediate national intervention.

IPID has been able to score a number of convictions and should not be discounted while investigating the deaths in Mothutlung. The sheer number of cases that come their way, the rampant abuse of power from police, IPID's resource struggles, and McBride's incoming leadership, however, do not inspire confidence. The organisation has more teeth than its predecessor, but it appetite is still too small to deal with systemic problems. DM

Photo by Greg Marinovich (Nkaneng, Marikana, 15 September 2012)

 

  • Greg Nicolson
  • South Africa


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