Some issues are no longer news in South Africa because we just accept the status quo. For example, it is an open secret we have serious issues with police officers abiding by the laws they swore to uphold when they took office.
In the past week, we saw the police going up and down in our communities trying to fight off xenophobic attacks. This could have been avoided had they taken the law seriously from the outset.
What South Africans are doing now – attacking other Africans – should not be tolerated and should be looked down upon. The same should be done to the type of service offered to all residents by the South African Police Service (SAPS).
Our police not only accept bribes, or take their time to show up at a crime scene, they also treat those in need of their services very badly. Women have reported how badly they have been treated by the police when reporting cases of gender-based violence.
The Minister of Police and police commissioners take their own sweet time to respond to issues badly affecting the country. The police need to take their responsibilities more seriously in order to restore law and order. Citizens should never feel the need to take the law into their own hands to gain the attention of law officials.
The police are a law unto themselves and often do not care about the citizens they vowed to serve. This is not to paint all police officers with the same brush, but to highlight the root of issues that have made South Africa the talk of the continent.
This is not the first time the police service has come under scrutiny. Some years back, the police in Daveyton gruesomely killed a Mozambican citizen and the incident was caught on camera. There was no clear indication why the man was being dragged by the police van other than that he was a non-national.
The status quo in that police station has not changed. As a woman from the notorious Daveyton – not among the first townships to get electricity – I can tell you the worst institutions there are Daveyton main clinic (which made the news when a child died after being denied access to healthcare) and Daveyton police station.
I have seen videos on social media of police officers denying a gay man services because of his sexuality. I have seen police officers not caring enough to properly investigate a crime that happened in my house – I called them at 2am, but they arrived hours later and none of them even stepped out of their car to take a look, even after I told them that my mother and I were alone in the house and someone had gained access via the garage. We could have been raped and killed by the perpetrator and become just another statistic.
When you arrive at Daveyton police station, you are either sent from pillar to post or someone willing to help you is victimised. Recently, a family member went to the station seven times to try and get a police clearance report. When someone finally offered to find the right person to assist her, she started getting phone calls from other police officers asking her why she was getting special treatment.
I am sure Daveyton police station is not the only station in tatters and the question arises: If the police cannot ensure everyone in South Africa feels safe, who should? Is this not going to escalate the feelings of inferiority among people? It is not fair and neither is it enough for the police to chop and change their preference as and when it suits them.
If we want to curb xenophobia in townships, the cops should not be xenophobic themselves. Most are – and take bribes from non-nationals. If we want women to feel safe in the country, the police need to make sure women are comfortable reporting abuse to them.
All of us are meant to be equal before the law and no one deserves to be victimised by the police. Police need to enhance our democracy and not further deepen divisions by flip-flopping on the service they provide. Police stations such as the one in Daveyton should be investigated to ensure residents feel safe and receive the service they deserve.
It is not good enough for the police to hide behind their uniforms while being the criminals themselves.
I write this in the hope that next time I visit my hometown I am not targeted. DM
Carol Mohlala is executive director of the Association of Independent Publishers.
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