South Africa


SAPS cherry-picks from 136 recommendations on democratic policing by expert panel on Marikana massacre

SAPS cherry-picks from 136 recommendations on democratic policing by expert panel on Marikana massacre
Police Minister General Bheki Cele at the release of the panel of experts report looking into policing and crowd control within the South African Police Service. (Photo: Ntswe Mokoena)

At Monday’s release of the independent report into SAPS professionalisation, Police Minister Bheki Cele was concerned about civil society’s silence on the killing of police officers. That ministerial bait-and-switch underscores the SAPS’s troubled policing in a democracy.

Police Minister Bheki Cele has made the case of police officers killed on and off duty his mission – and has taken it all the way to Cabinet. 

The official statements of the consecutive Cabinet meetings on 10 and 24 March described attacks and killings of police officers as “concerning”, “not only barbaric but also a threat to national security”, and “not only cowardly, but also unpatriotic, and should not be tolerated in our society.” 

On Monday, Cele again highlighted that few, if any, people called for the police to be protected. That was a concern for him, and police management. 

“In other parts of the world killing the police is treason. Our call is to say we must be outraged when [members of] the police [force are] killed, as we are when police themselves do the wrong things.” 

All this talks to an official attitude of “them against us”, and feeds into a narrative that police are under siege and must defend themselves. But this official narrative does nothing to transform the SAPS, demilitarise it or professionalise it.

And it’s also not what the 2018 report of the independent expert panel on policing is about, given that the Marikana Commission of Inquiry said it should deal not only with SAPS crowd management, but policing in a constitutional democracy. 

Or, as a member of the independent multidisciplinary expert panel, Eldred de Klerk, put it at Monday’s briefing: “This report has to be understood as a tool. It’s one of the opportunities to debate the kind of police we deserve and the kind of police we want.” 

The 596-page report, dated May 2018 – it was officially submitted to Cele in July 2018 – was finally published on Monday, but without the trove of supporting documents, including papers on demilitarisation, professionalisation and use of force. It’s understood the panel had asked for these also to be made public in line with a previous understanding, ultimately not acted on, that the police ministry would workshop the report and its recommendations with interested parties, from the SAPS itself, to academics, MPs and others. 

What emerged on Monday was cherry-picking from the 136 recommendations by the minister and police commissioner to show action over the past almost three years. 

Cele said several things had been done. “We did not sit back, we did not wait for the day of the publishing [of the report].” 

It was about new equipment: “the new specially produced cars with the water cannons, well-equipped with first aid kits”, loudhailers and cameras, at a cost of R598-million; and 6,324 police officials trained and declared competent in crowd management. 

It was about adjusting training modules and rewriting national instructions to, for example, stipulate distances at which rubber bullets might be used. The panel’s Recommendation 98 makes it clear rubber bullets must be prohibited at short range unless there’s a serious and immediate risk to life and “should be aimed to strike directly (i.e. without bouncing) the lower part of the person’s body (i.e. below the rib cage)”. 

According to Cele, “The bulk of the recommendations are to be realised in the short to medium term as they are incorporated into the SAPS Act Amendment Bill.” 

Actually, like Monday’s official silence on the national policing board, the draft bill is silent on the national policing board. The draft legislation is more about ministerial powers and creating a national structure for community policing forums.

But that national policing board is a central structure in the 2012 National Development Plan, or the agreed blueprint for South Africa, and features in the white paper on policing. 

The panel also viewed such an independent structure as central to SAPS transformation and professionalisation. It would conduct the processes for the appointment of police officers according to competency and experience, rather than mechanical rank promotion or nepotistic and politically motivated appointments. 

But the politicians have another view. And while some may hope that persistent silence on the national policing board will make this central feature of SAPS professionalisation go away, demilitarisation was given a shrug-off on Monday. 

Research by the Civilian Secretariat for Police Service found no militarisation of visible policing, even as the research parameters are unclear, given the militaristic SAPS ranks echoing army hierarchies. But it was sufficient for Cele. 

The independent panel has presented recommendations to haul the SAPS out of systemic decline marked not only by internal fighting over positions and perks, but also the brutality meted out by its members to the public, such as firing a water cannon at vulnerable grant applicants in Cape Town. 

“The Civilian Secretariat has established that the visible policing units of the SAPS are not militarised. There are sections within the SAPS that are paramilitary by virtue of the crimes they have to deal with. It is not unique to South Africa that the Tactical Response Team (TRT) and the National Intervention Unit (NIU) and Special Task Force (STF) use specialised techniques to deal with serious and violent crimes.” 

The panel’s Recommendation 43 calls for the demilitarisation of practices and institutional culture, whether that is drills, protocols or militaristic ceremonies. It raises the need for an institutional culture of engagement without fear of retribution, and outlines the need for the inculcation of professional ethos and self-discipline, rather than enforced military-style discipline. 

The Marikana Commission found the deployment of the TRT, NIU and STF on 16 August 2012 deeply problematic, as these units have no crowd management experience. 

Cele’s statement is in contrast to the panel’s Recommendation 45 that “consideration should be given to these units being restructured, renamed and relaunched as a new unit that is founded on an ethos of protection of life, professionalism, and accountability”. 

Recommendation 30 makes it clear that “disciplinary steps should be taken against the senior managers who bear ultimate responsibility for the fact that no disciplinary steps were taken against any member of the SAPS relating to the events at Marikana on 16th August 2012”. 

In March 2017, it emerged before Parliament’s police committee that the SAPS had absolved 87 of their own over the Marikana massacre through an internal process. Or, as the then deputy national commissioner for human resources, Lieutenant-General Bonang Mgwenya, put it, “They were cleared internally.” 

Parliament’s police committee features strongly in the panel’s recommendations as the main oversight structure to receive reports on the tactical units’ performances, as well as a full account of SAPS disciplinary proceedings. 

A professional SAPS that is accountable, transparent and can deal with public scrutiny is the kind of police service the panel’s recommendations looked to establish. 

Some of the recommendations are quick fixes, and wins, such as Recommendation 109 on the issuing of fire retardant overalls to Public Order Policing (POP) members, or the riot cops as they are known colloquially. Recommendation 115 says the helmets they wear must be fitted with proper communication tools so they can hear each other and their commanders. 

Some recommendations are focused on institutional transparency and accountability, such as the nametags every police officer is meant to wear visibly. Recommendation 111 says POP helmets must carry “a clearly identifiable number”, or even use a system of “different coloured helmets depending on command level”. 

Some recommendations are focused on getting the admin right – enough people and resources to populate effective and efficient disciplinary panels. 

Other recommendations go to the heart of democratic policing, such as Recommendation 134 on realistic, and ongoing, training scenarios so that police officials can learn how to respond appropriately. 

“A member who fails, or fails to undergo, mandatory crowd management training should be restricted from carrying out crowd management duties until such a time that she or he has undertaken the course and satisfied examiners on key competencies. POP members who no longer possess the required competency and capability should be transferred to other less demanding policing roles.”

National Instruction 4 of 2014 that’s supposed to deal with how police police crowds remains problematic. And not only because the panel recommendations find it contradictory in promoting both “negotiated crowd management” and the use of force that’s based on internationally outdated crowd control techniques. 

The independent panel has presented recommendations to haul the SAPS out of systemic decline marked not only by internal fighting over positions and perks, but also the brutality meted out by its members to the public, such as firing a water cannon at vulnerable grant applicants in Cape Town. 

Making sure that that does not happen again is what the demilitarisation and professionalisation recommendations are about. But the official cherry-picking does not lead to democratic policing. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Charles Parr says:

    If we can’t even get this right then there is no point in trying to rectify anything else. This is one of the most basic of government functions but the incompetence and greed at the top prevents any form of proper remedial action.

  • Carsten Rasch says:

    I stopped reading at about the 3rd para in order to make it to the toilet to vomit. I couldn’t get myself to read further, probably because I’m an unpatriotic coward guilty of treason. Unlike our Brave and Patriotic Minister of Bluster & Brutality, who leaves no stone unturned in his quest blah blah

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted


This article is free to read.

Sign up for free or sign in to continue reading.

Unlike our competitors, we don’t force you to pay to read the news but we do need your email address to make your experience better.

Nearly there! Create a password to finish signing up with us:

Please enter your password or get a sign in link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for signing up.

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Daily Maverick Elections Toolbox

Feeling powerless in politics?

Equip yourself with the tools you need for an informed decision this election. Get the Elections Toolbox with shareable party manifesto guide.