Defend Truth


Dear President Ramaphosa, rein in the security forces before we have another Marikana


Sahra Ryklief is the secretary-general of the International Federation of Workers’ Education Associations. Ryklief holds an MA in political science from the University of Liverpool and is an adjunct instructor for the Labour Studies and Employment Relations department of the School of Management and Labour Relations at Rutgers’ University, New Jersey, US. She is the former director of the Labour Research Service (LRS) and represents the LRS as the chairperson of Ditikeni, an ethical investment fund committed to the long-term sustainability of South African NGOs.

We cannot have a situation where deaths as a result of the actions of our security apparatus approach half of those attributed to Covid-19. This indicates a monumental weakness in the lockdown strategy and requires the government to act swiftly and decisively.

Dear Mr President,

Since you declared the nationwide lockdown, I have followed your communiques with respect and admiration. From your first announcement of the lockdown, you have set the tone and values for this national disaster, most important of which is that this is in the best interest of all in South Africa, that respect for the rules for the lockdown and the rights of others are paramount, and that we should all strive for patience and understanding. You repeat this in all your addresses, and also in your latest letter.

What I fail to understand though, is how, in your latest letter, which details the actions of those among us who seek to exploit this crisis for their own sinister ends, you do not mention the violence perpetrated by those drunk on their own power. Damage to public property is appalling, and we commend the investigations and attempts to bring this to a halt.

But why no mention of security forces’ abuse of power? Like the SANDF members who walked into a man’s home, opened his fridge, found a beer, and then beat him to death with sjamboks. With. Sjamboks. Just like our slave masters used to do. Nine people have been killed by police and SANDF brutality since lockdown.  On April 3, 30 cases of misconduct were registered at IPID.  Since then, information has been scant. We should receive a daily count of cases of misconduct being registered.

You are no fool, like that orange buffoon across the ocean. I cannot help but wonder if this avoidance is more a political choice than oversight. Let me venture to advise you, Mr President, that today’s selective censoring is a grievous error of judgment.  We require you to sympathise with all victims of alleged assault. We do not care about your party’s factions, or the power of our security chiefs. You, after all, are commander-in-chief.

Let me venture further, with all due respect, to remind you where your pandering to police impunity landed you before. Marikana! A blot on the face of our nation, forever. Do not take our willingness to set aside your role in this painful moment for granted. We are ready to accept that you have learned from your past. We all make mistakes.

We are in a crisis of monumental dimensions. We can ill-afford loose cannons. We don’t have a perfect society. We don’t have a perfect government. For now, in this crisis, we work with what we have. We have demonstrated as a nation that we are prepared to settle for our government, as it is currently, to lead us in this crisis. We place our trust in you, to ensure that it proves to be a responsive government.

We cannot have a situation where deaths as a result of the actions of our security apparatus approach half of those attributed to Covid-19. This indicates a monumental weakness in the lockdown strategy and requires the government to act swiftly and decisively. The law will take its course, but in a state of disaster, with the increased authority of the government and its security forces, immediacy is required. Let me remind you again, Mr President, you are commander-in-chief.

Like you did with the Cabinet ministers, we appeal to you to organise for the heads of the military and police to appear regularly before the press, broadcast on national television, broadcast on radio, to answer to the public for the deeds of the people under their command. Let them respond publicly to the questions from the media, let the head of IPID report publicly on cases lodged and let the head of the Human Rights Commission do the same. Let them give a daily promise to the nation that our rights, like our lives, are paramount in their service to this country. 

Make the security forces aware that their powers in the crisis are virtually unchallenged and this brings great responsibility to the common good of ALL the people, that they have a duty to protect the life, rights and dignity of everyone, whether citizen or economic migrant; homeowner or homeless; CEO or informal trader; teetotaller or alcoholic; pillar of the community or social outcast.

Let them encourage their forces to keep a humane and compassionate approach. To see each person as a member of their, of our, family.

We need the right kind of leadership. If the leaders of our security forces cannot provide this, remove and replace them. They risk bringing down this entire country and plunging us into unbearable suffering for years to come. Time to blow that whistle to bring the substitutes onto the field,  Mr President! DM


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