Opinionista Thato Masiangoako 24 October 2019

For better police, we must support IPID and other institutions that can ensure this

IPID needs to be strengthened in parallel with the NPA especially after learning how its integrity has been eroded by State Capture. These institutions are critical for holding the police accountable and they are capable of influencing police reform in ways that the SAPS is unable to achieve alone.

The recent allegations against the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) by Viewfinder on 7 October 2019 detail how the police oversight body has been closing cases prematurely to inflate its performance statistics. Such systemic dereliction leaves victims of crimes committed by police officials with no justice or closure. If the South African Police Services (SAPS) is to be meaningfully reformed then IPID and related bodies such as the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) need to be supported.

IPID presented its annual report to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Police (the committee) on Thursday, 11 October 2019 and responded to Viewfinder’s allegations. Committee members and IPID officials acknowledged that the body is structurally impeded by severe budgetary and capacity constraints, as noted by Viewfinder. The Institute for Security Studies and others confirm that IPID’s budget was cut by R14,4 million in 2017/18 and by a further R23-million in 2018/19. With around 400 investigators, there is one IPID investigator for every 1,130 police officers. IPID’s independence is also questionable: It is answerable to the Department of Police and depends on the Department for its budget allocation, and in some areas, relies on SAPS to conduct its investigations.

IPID’s presentation to the Committee noted that its “overall performance improved significantly from 65% to 83%” but that over the last five years, successful prosecution or disciplinary proceedings remained very low. In fact, Viewfinder’s whistle-blower evidence reveals that of the more than 42,000 criminal cases against the police between April 2012 and March 2019, only 531 ended in a criminal conviction. Just above 1% of all reported cases of police criminality resulted in a conviction.

Presenting to the committee, Matthews Sesoko, IPID Head of Investigations, argued that in the same way that prosecutors could not be judged on convictions, IPID could not be held responsible for the low number of prosecution decisions taken by the NPA. The NPA sometimes returns poorly investigated matters back to IPID. However, it cannot be discounted that there may be a general reluctance to pursue matters against the police on the part of the NPA. According to the Prosecution Policy Directives, members of the SAPS are included in the categories of persons for “whom written authorisation or instruction is required” from the National Director or Deputy of Public Prosecutions. Prosecutors who are equally under-resourced and over-worked are less likely to pursue matters that are made that much more arduous by such directives.

IPID is currently waiting for a response from the NPA on 1,475 of the 2,044 matters it referred to them this year. The NPA’s reluctance spells a dead-end for the pursuit of justice because even if IPID can rise above its systematic, financial and human resources constraints and refer thoroughly investigated cases, the NPA can, and apparently does, simply fail to act.

When IPID decided to comply with the findings of the Farlam Commission of Inquiry to investigate the deaths from the Marikana Massacre it received very little support from the state. Additional funding was not provided for the massive project that comprised of 184 crime scene reconstructions. The investigation placed IPID’s operational budget under severe strain. From that investigation, the NPA has chosen to prosecute only nine police officers and 16 mineworkers. And yet seven years after Marikana and two years since IPID concluded its investigations, the NPA is yet to prosecute a single police officer for the deaths of 16 August 2012. This is despite the wealth of available evidence that details the criminal use of lethal force by police officials.

The 16 mineworkers appeared in court on 18 October 2019 for the deaths of two police officers, two security guards and six mineworkers. On 16 August 2019, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng poignantly asked whether we have “made it our business to make sure that everybody who was directly or indirectly involved in that tragic event was held accountable properly‚ or have we deployed our wisdom to manage the truth in such a way as to shift blame to those who have very little to protect themselves with?” The state’s actions have been clear in this regard.

The failure to charge responsible police officers for what even President Cyril Ramaphosa has described as “the darkest moment in the life of our young democracy” makes the promise of justice for victims of police violence ring hollow. A lack of political will to find justice for the victims of Marikana could explain why IPID has never been sufficiently staffed or resourced since its establishment in 2012 when it replaced the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD). A lack of capacity is, however, no excuse for IPID to prematurely close cases of murder, rape and torture among others.

IPID is constitutionally obliged to investigate the conduct of SAPS and is trusted by the public to hold them accountable for violations and misconduct. When IPID fails to carry out its duties, victims can pursue civil damages against the police. If successful, they can be paid out by the state but there is no real impact on the police officers responsible. In the end, the taxpayer foots that bill and the perpetrator gets to keep his job, and be excused as simply another of a ‘few bad apples’.

Viewfinder’s allegations point to severe challenges related to IPID and its institutional framework. The allegations also unearth the multitude and horror of crimes committed by the police, the vast majority of which are not properly investigated. The cost is one that we all bear: a police service that acts with grave impunity.

The allegations against IPID not only expose institutional malpractice but also shed light on how the broader structure in which IPID operates reflects a lack of regard for police accountability and reform, even after Marikana.

IPID indicated that an internal investigation by its Integrity Strengthening Unit was looking into cases of manipulation in all nine provinces. IPID is expected to present the “confidential report” to the committee on 23 October 2019. If IPID is to restore public trust, that report must be made public and all efforts to repair the institution must be equally transparent.

IPID needs to be strengthened in parallel with the NPA especially after learning how its integrity has been eroded by State Capture. These institutions are critical for holding the police accountable and they are capable of influencing police reform in ways that SAPS is unable to achieve alone. These institutions need to receive the kind of support that reflects a commitment to justice and upholds the promise that everyone is equal before the law and that the inherent dignity of all people will be respected. We must demand this of our representatives, and they have to see it through. Otherwise, South Africans will continue to be deprived of the police force they deserve. DM

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