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LETTER: The police are still organised along military lines

We are meant to be blessed with a police service in the postapartheid era, not cursed with a police force reminiscent of authoritarian rule rather than democratic governance

15 August 2022 – 16:58 Paul Hoffman

https://spkt.io/e/4863677

Ten years after the shooting by police of protesting Lonmin miners, the real ongoing tragedy is that government has learnt nothing from the awful events that played out at Marikana. The police are still organised along military lines, despite the National Development Plan and Farlam Inquiry recommendations that they be demilitarised.

We are meant to be blessed with a police service in the postapartheid era, not cursed with a police force reminiscent of authoritarian rule rather than democratic governance. The police minister can demilitarise the SA Police Service (SAPS) by the stroke of his pen, but he chooses not to act. He was described by the Moloi board as “incompetent and dishonest” before being dismissed as police commissioner by then president Jacob Zuma. Both of these qualities prevent him from acting appropriately.

Even the ANC policy documents discussed last month call, on page 122, for the demilitarisation of the police in stinging terms: “…the SAPS ranks must be demilitarised without further delay and returned to what they were before they were arbitrarily changed during the 2009 administration.”

Then there is the matter of public order policing. An especially assembled panel of experts reported extensively on the shortcomings in public order policing that led to the shooting tragedy and made over 100 recommendations to improve it through proper training with new equipment. When the insurrection of July 2021 occurred the police used as an excuse for their lack of response that they did not want “another Marikana”.

Had the work of the panel of experts created via the Farlam inquiry not been ignored by the SAPS there would have been properly trained and equipped public order policing available to stem the deaths, shooting, looting and mayhem of July 2021.

The basic idea in the constitution is that police serve the people rather than act as the enforcement tool of an authoritarian regime. This idea is behind the “Protect and Serve” motto that is honoured in the breach by an incompetent and cadre-riddled administration that has allowed the police-to-population ratio to dip alarmingly.

Paul Hoffman, SC, Director, Accountability Now

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