Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry, Phase One: Putting a finger in a leaking dike

By Marianne Thamm 16 September 2014

A little over two weeks after the handing over of the final 580-page report of the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry into dysfunctional policing in the area, the Western Cape government announced plans to implement some of the findings. Meanwhile, in neighbouring townships, residents still battle with the same disturbing policing issues. By MARIANNE THAMM.

An SMS arrives moments before a scheduled 10am press conference at the offices of Western Cape MEC for Community Safety, Dan Plato, where he is set to announce the province’s “plan of action” in response of the findings of the Khayelitsha Commission of Enquiry.

The commission, headed by former Constitutional Court judge Kate O’Regan and Advocate Vusi Pikoli, spent three harrowing months listening to the testimony of over 100 witnesses before handing the final report – with strict timelines – to Western Cape Premier Helen Zille on August 25.

The SMS to the Daily Maverick contained details of a three-year-old girl who had been allegedly raped and sodomised. The child lives in a township about 15 minutes from Khayelitsha. The child’s frantic father has no idea why the alleged perpetrator, who is known to the child, is back on the streets. Someone in the system has told him that his daughter is too young to testify, he says, and that he must wait until she is six to reopen the case. The father’s livid employer is attempting to track down the docket, the prosecutor, the investigating officer, anyone who can help.

We try the investigating officer but it is Monday and he is off sick. And so the Kafkaesque journey through a dysfunctional bureaucracy begins. A three-year-old child has been raped and sodomised. The alleged perpetrator happens to be related to an official connected with local government (this was confirmed to the Daily Maverick by the official). The child sees her alleged attacker every day.

After the alleged perpetrator’s release on 10 October, angry community members set fire to his house. He has since taken refuge in a shebeen, owned by another family member also related to the official. In the meantime, the government official has had to install panic buttons in their home, courtesy of local ratepayers. The official is afraid and tells the Daily Maverick, “We need to be protected; people must not take the law into their own hands”. The official denies threatening community members that “the case will disappear”. The official says that the perpetrator was acquitted anyway. The father has no knowledge of this judgment. (The Daily Maverick is in possession of details of all the parties involved in this incident and will be tracking its progress – or lack of it – as the father and his employer attempt to retrieve the case file and the apparent judgment by a magistrate).

The story is emblematic. It was because of continued “vigilante action” by the frustrated residents of Khayelitsha that the Commission of Inquiry was appointed in the first place. Prompted of course by a grouping of NGOs, the Social Justice Coalition, the TAC, Ndifuna Ukwazi and Equal Education who lobbied tirelessly to have it established. Former Minster of Police, Nathi Mthethwa, attempted to have the Commission, appointed by Zille in 2012, declared unconstitutional, but Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke dismissed the application.

At the press conference in Dan Plato’s office yesterday, when asked whether some of the measures that will be applied in Khayelitsha might be implemented elsewhere, particularly in relation cases like that of the three-year-old, Plato replied: “Yes, it is possible. It has been a particularly bad time in the Western Cape. Last week eight girls under the age of five were raped.”

Lester Kiewit, well-known Cape Town journalist with eNCA, later Tweeted, “In a Presser WC Comm Safety MEC Plato reports last week 8 girls under the age of 5 were raped in the Province. We don’t even gasp anymore.”

We” in the media might not gasp, but the residents of areas who live with this constant terror do. They gasp, they rage, they find little respite in the system. Perhaps then the implementation of some of the key findings of the Khayelitsha Commission could be viewed as a start in correcting and rectifying the nature of dysfunctional policing in these communities burdened with extraordinary high levels of violence and crime, demotivated and under-resourced police, some of whom are blatantly corrupt.

Yesterday Plato said that while most of the recommendations were specific to the SAPS (who are expected to manage themselves) the Western Cape government had constitutional oversight over the SAPS in general and would be monitoring the implementation through an oversight team.

Deon Oosthuizen, Director of Police Monitoring and Evaluation at the Department of Community Safety (DoCS), will serve on this team that the SAPS has been tasked with pulling together. A civilian expert will also be nominated to serve.

Some of the measures announced on Monday are far-reaching and include the appointment of a special Police Ombudsman to oversee complaints with regard to how police implemented the Domestic Violence Act, the establishment of a multi-sectorial task team on youth gangs, a provincial task team to gauge community response to illegal liquor outlets, the deployment of the province’s first “Mobile Safety Kiosk” to the area as well as 30 young people trained through the Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrade (VPUU) programme.

In an attempt to keep children occupied during the December school holidays, a vulnerable period as parents were often at work, the department had set aside R500,000 for a “Youth, Safety and Religious Programme” as well as increasing its support for the night soccer league operated by Amandla Edu-Football. A further R2.5 million had been set aside for “other priority areas in the Western Cape” and adverts would soon be placed in community newspapers inviting organisations to partner with his department.

A draft Memorandum of Agreement with SAPS was also being prepared, said Plato, to clarify and regulate the legislative framework as well as the relationship between his department and the SAPS. This memorandum would particularly deal with complains about SAPS service delivery as well as providing for unannounced visits to police stations.

His department, said Plato, would seek to find solutions to the heavy load and poor detective work at Khayeltisha police stations “and in general, across the province” in proposals contained in the National Development Plan (NDP) which included a proposed two-tier stream of recruitment. In addition his department would offer training to Neighbourhood Watches (NW), Community Policing Forums (CPFs) as to their functions and responsibilities.

Plato said CPSs in Khayelitsha would be given more funding and resources and academics would also be consulted to look at methods of providing community mediation services.

In an attempt to address vigilantism, Plato said the DoCS would convene a forum of local school principals, churches and religious institutions, CPFs, NGOs, community based organisations and SAPS managers. This was a priority for the Policing Needs and Priorities meeting for the police cluster due to take place on September 20, he added.

Plato also announced the establishment of multi-sectorial task team on youth gangs with the Western Cape Department of Social Development as a key partner. The national Department of Justice and the SAPS would, said Plato, “have an integral role to play here”.

Plato added that he had confidence in embattled Western Cape Police Commissioner Arno Lamoer, who is facing charges, with four other top cops, of corruption and racketeering – a matter Plato declined to comment on at yesterday’s conference.

While the residents of Khayelitsha can soon look forward to a measure of respite, those in adjacent areas and surrounding townships are saddled with many of the same problems and recurring complaints.

Visiting Nyanga – the murder capital of South Africa – last month Lamoer faced angry residents who are deeply unhappy with the performance of the Nyanga police. Lamoer has subsequently promised 46 additional officers for the station.

It is clear that the deep-rooted problems in the SAPS cannot only be addressed from area to area and that there are common complaints that have been voiced by communities for years. It took the groundbreaking Khayelitsha Commission to provide a space and a voice for the ordinary people of these violence-riddled areas to be heard and seen. While it appears as if provincial officials are all committed to providing a police service that in fact does “serve” citizens, it is now up to the National Minister of Police, Nkosinathi Nhleko, as well as National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega, to announce their “plan of action” in line with the commission’s recommendations and, of course, timelines.

At the end of the press conference, Plato said he hoped that the local model adopted in Khayelitsha would be implemented countrywide.

Meanwhile, a desperate father will this week continue his quest to find answers as to why no one has been arrested or punished for the rape of his three-year-old child. What has happened to the other eight children Plato said had been raped is anyone’s guess. DM

Photo: Residents walk through shacks in Cape Town’s crime-ridden Khayelitsha township in this picture taken July 9, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

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