Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko was praised for his presentation to Parliament's committee on police on Wednesday responding to the Marikana commission of inquiry report. He has wide-ranging plans to reform the South African Police Service (SAPS). Investigations are under way into the SAPS's criminal liability at Marikana. And, so far, he hasn't opposed the civil claims from Marikana's families and mineworkers, meaning a settlement might be a possibility. Nothing, however, is set in stone. By GREG NICOLSON.
“In effect, it’s a state of the police address,” committee chairperson Francis Beukman said after Nhleko finished his presentation on Wednesday. The minister’s address was supported by MPs from different political parties. The Democratic Alliance’s Dianne Kohler Barnard even said that in her nine years on the committee “this is the first truly professional presentation that has come either from the ministry or the SAPS and I think it shows a move to 21st century advanced policing that has been totally absent forever”.
Nhleko’s appearance came after the Marikana commission made broad recommendations on improving public order policing and holding those responsible to account. After noting the recommendations relating to the SAPS, Nhleko explained how they would be put in motion.
Commission chairman Judge Ian Farlam recommended an independent panel be established comprising local and international experts from the inside and outside the SAPS to review public order policing prescripts and look at global best practices.
“I am running one-on-one kind of engagements at a local level with people who potentially would form part of this particular panel across the spectrum basically,” said Nhleko. He said experts would come from the SAPS and noted potential contributions from academics, nongovernmental organisations, and international experts.
“In so far as I’m concerned this is a very urgent matter, extremely so. I’m saying urgent, it’s an urgent matter. The recommendations of the judicial commission of inquiry for example, I don’t think it’s something that I can think about, ‘Yeah no even if I do it in six months time or 12 months time it doesn’t matter,’” said Nhleko. “It’s something that has got to be effectively attended to.”
Nhleko said “work has already started” on the recommendation for the National Prosecuting Authority and the Independent Police Investigative Directorate to investigate SAPS members for criminal liability at Marikana. President Jacob Zuma, however, still needs to appoint a senior state advocate to lead a team of forensic pathologists and crime scene reconstruction experts to assist in investigations.
The police minister focused mostly on what he called the “moment of truth” – using the Marikana report’s recommendations to transform policing. He spoke of organisational culture and structure, ensuring leaders fit their positions; operating principles and procedures and their rules of engagement; equipment and infrastructure, including investigating non-lethal methods of crowd control; training offices to protect human rights; and the framework around demilitarisation and professionalisation.
The minister is looking at implementing changes over 15 months and some MPs noted the challenges to come. The African National Congress’s Livhuwani Mabija said: “The report is so good and I only hope it will be properly implemented.” Few named names, but multiple MPs wanted to know whether changes could be made with National Commissioner Riah Phiyega and her deputies and provincial officers in place.
“With the current management you cannot succeed, you cannot win. That’s a cut and dried issue,” said the Economic Freedom Fighters’ Phillip Mhlongo. The ANC’s Leonard Ramatlakane said the committee must acknowledge the awkwardness in the room – problems in the policing culture. The committee has recently experienced police management demonstrating “a foreign culture of behaviour that really demonstrated that they are not answerable to the South African Parliament in the form of this committee”.
Kohler Barnard asked if Phiyega would be suspended pending the investigation into her fitness to hold office. Nhleko said that was the president’s decision. He spoke about ensuring that SAPS staff are effective and ensuring that as the SAPS is reformed there’s a balance of experience and new influences.
Towards the end of the committee meeting, the ANC’s Angelina Molebatsi took the issue back to Marikana: “When everything is said and done, at the end there are orphans and widows of this tragedy. Will they be compensated?” Relatives of 37 mineworkers killed in Marikana filed civil claims last month. Papers were also filed for for 275 mineworkers injured or arrested at Marikana.
“I’m taking a briefing today from our legal team, from the SAPS, on the question on the approach of this question,” said Nhleko. “However, let me just say this, and I’m not addressing myself to the issue of compensation, the fact of the matter remains that what we need in South Africa is essentially closure on this question pertaining to the Marikana tragedy. Because the blame game doesn’t benefit anybody. It just simply doesn’t benefit anybody. Because right now that’s the platform that is there, ‘You did this, this is what, this is what’ and so on. But that is not going to help. The fact of the matter is we need to reconcile and start to organise our people in that community. We need to find a better way also of going over this situation, taking all sorts of sensitivities into account.”
He continued: “Unfortunately I’m unable to respond to your question about whether there will be compensation or not at this stage because papers have been filed, they’re in court and so forth. We need further engagement on the issue.”
This week, Nhleko’s spokesperson Musa Zondi told the SABC: “The best situation would be if it was possible to have a conversation and finalise these things instead of having long, drawn-out court battles.”
The minister has days to respond to the applications and neither legal team has received opposing papers, they said on Wednesday. Representing the 275 mineworkers, Andries Nkome said he’s waiting to receive responding papers from the minister but has heard rumours that there’s an intention to approach his team to discuss settlements for the civil claims. “That’s what our clients have wanted all along,” said Nkome. DM
Photo: Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko (GCIS)