Acting national police commissioner Lieutenant-General Khomotso Phahlane has been talking a lot about the SAPS’s back-to-basics policing. Tuesday’s presentation by the police watchdog, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), showed that the road to a professional and trustworthy police service may yet be a long and rocky one. By MARIANNE MERTEN.
On Tuesday, IPID announced it would launch a trend analysis of the increasing numbers of complaints about police torture and assault. In the 2014/15 financial year, there were 145 torture complaints – up from 78 a year earlier and 50 the year before that. In 2015/16 (the financial year ends at the end of March) there were 73 torture complaints.
IPID’s annual report for the 2014/15 financial year, submitted to Parliament in late September 2015, showed not only increases in torture cases against the police, but also more deaths in police custody or as a result of police action. There was also an increase of SAPS officials investigated for rape, both on- and off-duty.
Nationally, 244 deaths were recorded in police custody, up by ten for a year earlier; while 423 South Africans died because of police action in 396 incidents, up by six incidents. The 2014/15 annual report also showed complaints of rape were made against 124 policemen, up from 121 the previous year. Forty two of the policemen were on duty when they allegedly raped.
As an overseeing body (in Section 206(6) of the Constitution), IPID has the legal mandate to receive, log and investigate complaints against police before making recommendations for prosecution to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) or for disciplinary steps to the SAPS.
Aside from deaths, torture, assault, rape, the discharge of an official firearm, IPID also probes systemic corruption. A total of 30 of such cases were investigated since IPID’s taking over from the Independent Complaints Directorate in 2012. Of those 30 cases of systemic corruption, nine are ready for a decision, seven closed and 14 remain active. Details were not presented to the police committee on Tuesday, but would be supplied after MPs questioned whether these corruption cases were procurement matters, or something else. Committee chairman, ANC MP Francois Beukman, requested IPID should pursue thematic analysis into, for example the sale of dockets, in an effort to help address corruption.
But the spotlight of Tuesday’s IPID’s briefing to MPs was on its role in the ongoing investigations of the police killing of 34 Marikana miners on August 16, 2012 and the implementation of the recommendations of the Marikana commission of inquiry, which also considered the 10 deaths in the week preceding the police killings.
IPID has taken the first step. Criminal charges have been submitted to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for a decision on prosecution against suspended national police commissioner General Riah Phiyega who also faces an inquiry into her fitness for office because of her conduct before the commission of inquiry. Former North West police commissioner Zukiswa Mbombo, in retirement since mid-2015, also faces enquiries.
Charges are being finalised against Major-General Ganasen Naidoo, for redirecting medical assistance on the day of the killings and belatedly handing in his firearm. There are charges, too, against Brigadier Ledile Malahlela for failing to record the meeting at which the police plan for that day was agreed to. Malahlela was booked off ill, apparently over stress, and never testified before the Marikana commission of inquiry. Daily Maverick last July extensively reported on the “disappearing” memory stick recording of the meeting.
IPID’s role in unraveling of the police killings – likened to democratic South Africa’s equivalent to the 1960 Sharpeville massacre – continues. IPID is part of a task team, with the SAPS and the elite Hawks, officially the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, and others. Up and running since July 2015, the task team must investigate, among other, the Marikana police killings of August 16, 2012 and the meeting a day earlier in which the police’s tactical strategy was decided.
The Marikana commission of inquiry report, released at the end of June last year stated: “The leadership of the police, on the highest level, appears to have taken no to give the true version of how it came about that the ‘tactical option’ was implemented on August 16 and to conceal the fact that the plan to be implemented was hastily put together”.
Seven IPID senior officials and investigators are part of this 21-strong task team alongside two members of the Hawks, four SAPS ballistics and crime scene experts, a private and a State pathologist, five NPA prosecutors and a private senior counsel. The investigations are “in progress”, MPs were told on Tuesday. The task team would cost R5 million and the investigations are expected to be finalised by the end of March.
IPID is also scrutinizing its own structures, following the Marikana commission of inquiry recommendations that it must ensure staffing and resources so it can function effectively. So are the SAPS.
Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko recently appointed a panel of experts to ensure the Marikana commissions of inquiry’s recommendations are implemented with the ultimate goal of ensuring the existence of a professional police service. Phahlane has picked up his political boss’s baton – and is running with back-to-basics professional policing.
If back-to-basics sounds familiar, it is. Former Co-operative Governance Minister Pravin Gordhan, now back at the finance portfolio, started the municipal back-to-basics: get the potholes fixed, ensure services are delivered and be a responsive and accountable municipality. While some councils have come on board, the challenges at local government are great. The 2013/14 audit of local government showed just 53% of the 268 audited councils received good, if not necessarily clean bills of health. Only 40 municipalities received clean audits, or auditor-speak for unqualified opinions with no findings. Among those with clean audits were only two of the country’s eight metros – Ekurhuleni and Cape Town. Johannesburg, Tshwane, Mangaung and eThekwini received unqualified audits with some findings, while the Eastern Cape’s Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City received qualified audits.
The national police commissioner faces similar trials and tribulations. Last week he admitted to MPs there were “challenges” with police pocket books. In this notebook police officers must record everything that happens on a shift to back up, if necessary, even testimony in a court. It appears there are also issues with police ID cards, which police officers, particularly those not in uniform, must by law produce to any member of the public to identify themselves.
Still, the police last week told MPs the “new” approach was working. And the SAPS hauled out dazzling statistics to prove the point. Following the deployment of national intervention teams to stations across the country since December, 466 wanted persons were arrested. And the number of outstanding dockets slashed – by 43.2% in KwaZulu-Natal, by 22.5% in the Free State and 21.9% in Gauteng.
Freedom Front Plus MP Pieter Groenewald said this was too good to be true. “How is it possible that in three months’ time you can have this improvement? Does this mean members of the SAPS did not do their jobs? Only when you started this intervention, suddenly there’s a result,” he asked.
There was little more than a diplomatic response. “ I can’t answer whether they were doing or not doing what they were supposed to do,” the acting national police commissioner said.
Amid the official promise that further details would be provided to MPs, what was not clearly presented were the reasons for this massive reduction in outstanding dockets categorised as older than 10 years, five years and a year.
How many were closed as “undetected”, effectively an administrative action? How many were closed after further investigation led to arrests? It is in this detail the devil lays. If dockets are closed as undetected, it may make this year’s crime statistics look good, but not necessarily the quality of policing – back-to-basics or not. DM
Photo: Policemen give instructions to an injured miner after the striking miners were shot outside Marikana mine, August 16, 2012. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko.