Why should Mthethwa and Phiyega really go?

Last night I was shocked by calls by Douglas Gibson that Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa and Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega should be relived off their duties and responsibilities by President Jacob Zuma. This is very unlikely for a number of reasons. Of course I am not referring to legal issues that would make this unlikely, if any at all.

According to Gibson Phiyega “has failed [and that’s why] she must go”. He however acknowledges that the police commissioner indeed does have a “multi-million rand contract” but insists anyway that the government should sommer net “pay her out and be done with it,” before adding Mthethwa and his deputy “should do the honourable thing and resign.” In an article titled “Awkward task ahead” on 14 June last year, The Citizen quoted Gibson questioning Phiyega’s police credentials, claiming she does not have what it takes about fighting crime. He insisted the police commissioner knew nothing about policing and wondered if indeed there was not even one senior professional policeman with the necessary qualities, police experience and authority who could have been appointed.

Of course I am among those who questioned Phiyega’s appointment. But I then later learned that it is sometimes not about the experience and qualifications but actually about attributes and attitude that are taking into account whether one has the capability, skills (of whatever kind) to fulfil the responsibility that has been bestowed upon that incumbent to do the job. For example, neither former Presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki and even now President Jacob Zuma knew a shit about running a country especially after the ruling African National Congress took over during the democratic dispensation from the apartheid government in the early 90s. They however managed to lead us – which each facing their own challenges – to date.

While Gibson believes Phiyega is not a “morally challenged politician”, he however believes she is a “third failed police commissioner in a row” after his predecessor, Jackie Selebi. He claims the police commissioner is “simply not the person to demand and receive the respect of the 160,000 policemen she must command”. Bizarrely – more like murder accused Oscar Pistorius’ father told The Telegraph newspaper not so long ago, Gibson said crime is at a frighteningly high level in the country – which we all agree with. He continues to claim that South Africans (unlike the Pistorius family with over 50 guns?) do not feel safe and do not believe the police can or will protect them. “A basic duty of the state is to protect all its citizens and if it fails in this essential task because the police force is not up to its job, then the Rule of law is in grave peril”. It is true that many have complained of the way the police service has been ‘militarised’ as indicated by Democratic Alliance Shadow Minister of Police, Dianne Kohler Barnard in which she made the following example:

It is further true that there are many loyal policemen who do their work perfectly but that there are those who do not do their job. Just as one police officer was quoted in the SA Journal of Industrial Psychology, Vol 38, No 2 (2012) especially for those who had to deal with the trauma of being in the police services everyday where they had to watch as some of their colleagues are shot dead: “Although, later one regrets it that the robbers are not dead, because they shot to kill us. It was an unfair battle. Some people criticise one’s actions afterwards and say that they would have handled it better … Then I think to myself: “do not comment if you were not part of that which happened when it happened’”. It is therefore wrong for Gibson to accuse Phiyega as one of the “incompetent, untrained or inadequately trained and depressingly ill-equipped to fill the post [she occupies] for reasons other than their merit”, saying “that is why she has failed and needs to be replaced.” While there’s nothing wrong with either Mthethwa or Phiyega being given the boot by Zuma but for valid and good reasons, I however believe of reasons given by Gibson it will be premature because we first need to deal with what is actually the root cause of these brutalities against the civil society (and the police themselves). But then again, one wonders who will have to take responsibility for the brutality that is exerted on the poor police officers during their line of duty as explained in this research.

According to the SA Journal of Industrial Psychology research policing in South Africa is a dangerous job. No don’t about that. For example, it noted that 54 members lost their lives in the line of duty from July 2002 to July 2003. These figures increased significantly in 2006, with 51 police officers losing their lives in the first half of 2006, according to the research. The research further noted at the time (2012) that the available data indicated the death rate was significantly higher than the global average, with 109 officers being killed on duty in 2008 and 2009.

It appears to be a well-documented tendency – especially from opposition parties in South African to call for the recall of certain people holding certain positions in the country especially when they seemingly tend to differ on a number of issues. For example, following Zuma’s admission that he had slept with a woman who was apparently HIV positive a few years ago after the woman laid charges of rape against for him, and for which he was exonerated – Congress of the People made a call in 2010 that he must go.

Even some commentators on New24 said Zuma should not come back for a second term as president of the ruling party in December last year, which he still remains. Again, following the Western Cape saga in Khayelitsha in which three police stations faced serious problems, founder of the Social Justice Coalition, civic activist Zackie Achmat said in November last year in the Cape Times that Mthethwa and Community Safety MEC Dan Plato to be sacked. Further, National Education Health and Allied Workers Union spokesperson Sizwe Pamla also called for DA Leader Helen Zille in May last year to resign over her alleged “responsibility for all the damaged property in the Johannesburg CBD, and the blood of innocent people that was spilt [on 15 May 2012]” for its march to Cosatu offices at the time.

Basic Education Angie Motshekga is also among government ministers who had on several occasions been asked to be sacked by Zuma early this year by South African Democratic Teachers’ Union. Not taking any of this non-sense, Motshekga responded, saying Sadtu’s comments were “unfortunate, the posture and tone regrettable.” This after Sadtu said early this month that it had lost confidence in and accused her of having “run out of ideas on how to turn around the DBE and has even resorted to publicity stunts such as the announcement of the biometric registration system without even having the decency expected of a minister to engage the major stakeholders.”.

“We have therefore reached a stage where we can make a passionate call to the minister to do the honourable thing and take the road less travelled by submitting her resignation as the minister of basic education with immediate effect. We are hopeful that this resignation which we are looking forward to, will have an annexure being the resignation of the DG of the department, Bobby Soobrayan”, said the teachers’ union.

To request that someone be sacked or resign is quite a dangerous tendency as it often sets a bad and terrible precedence that is often unwarranted or used for political reasons. I mean the only time I called for the sacking of a minister was in October 2011, 20 of the late and controversial Minister of Co-operative governance and Traditional Affairs, Sicelo Shiceka after several investigations implicated him. Even when I criticised Zuma’s special adviser for a few days, Willem Heath, I never called for his sacking but only indicated that his comments were quite troubling because of what seemed like defamatory allegations made about former president Thabo Mbeki in an interview with City Press on 4 December 2011. Even my Open Letter to Zuma last year October regarding the Nkandlagate never called for his resignation nor did it call for a vote of no confidence vote on him but only indicated that his failure (as also noted by Pierre De Vos) to “heed to my call to immediately stop this Nkandla upgrade saga would confirm many people’s suspicions and even give opposition parties greater ammunition against your administration that unlike former President Nelson Mandela’s and Thabo Mbeki’s – it is hell-bent on using legislation (quoted by [Thulas] Nxesi, [Mac] Maharaj, etc) for self-enrichment and to hide unlawful conduct, maladministration or corruption, and thereby escaping public accountability especially how our taxes are used and abused.”

It however may be true and possible the brutal police training as exposed by Mail & Guardian in June 2011 is related to the level of brutality that police often exert on the society they are expected to protect. As Chris Botha, a retired policeman who is now a training consultant for the SAPS and police in other countries, told the newspaper at the time: “If the police are trained with verbal and physical abuse, there is a strong possibility that they will act that way towards communities. It is a very dangerous thing and should be dealt with immediately”. This of course differs from one person to another. This is because the SA Journal of Industrial Psychology research quoted one member of the police services saying: “Even though the training was physically very demanding, and you worked under lots of pressure, I believe that I am better equipped, and better trained to do every job that is required from me”.

According to the M&G report titled “Police training: Brutality exposed” on 3 Jan 2011, the police brutality came into the spotlight following the killing of Andries Tatane. It further reported of how an Independent Complaints Directorate (now known as Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) polices assaults rose from 1380 in 2007-2008 to 1667 in 2009-2010. the newspaper further noted a research by Amnesty International report which provided what it called “hair-raising details of SAPS torture and brutality”. In the cause of “toughening” them up and instilling discipline, trainees at the SAPS training college in Pretoria interviewed by the newspaper in the course of a three-month investigation said they were subjected to five-hour, non-stop physical training sessions, during which they were not allowed to drink, go to the toilet or remove their jerseys in hot weather.

Speaking to M&G at the time, national police spokesperson, captain Dennis Adriao, said the training of new recruits was of “international standard” and based on “best-training practices from various countries worldwide” to ensure the best possible tactical skills and services to the community. He further claimed new recruits were informed of what to expect and signed a memorandum of agreement. Adriao said it was stipulated in the trainees’ contracts that they will be suspended if they are unfit or are on light duty for more than six days. Adriano further said: “Physical training and discipline forms an integral part of a police member’s training and is essential not only to protect their lives, but also the lives of community members.” But he said that recruits placed on light duty should be excused from physical activities, in line with doctors’ recommendations, according to the M&G report.

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa’s spokesperson, Zweli Mnisi, told the newspaper that trainees who felt their rights had been violated should lay a complaint. He said: “vigorous as the training is, we also enforce respect among our trainers for trainees”. Mnisi said if trainees had any complaints, there were various internal channels which he was certain were clearly communicated to them prior to undertaking the training. Mnisi told M&G at the time that it would be “premature to endorse or condemn anyone, based on these allegations, without any tangible evidence”.

But the IPID blamed negligent police management, poor training, disrespect for law and order, criminal members within police ranks and blatant disregard for internal disciplinary procedures as the chief causes behind the scourge of police brutality gripping South Africa at a conference on police brutality and the use of force, according to media reports. With 2 462 criminal complaints laid against the police in the 2009/10 financial year and the organisation coming under increased pressure following the murder of service delivery protesters across South Africa, urgent action was needed to be taken to avert the crisis. It said of the 2 462 complaints, 920 (40 percent) were for assault with the intent to cause grievous bodily harm, 422 (22 percent) for common assault and 325 (17 percent) for attempted murder. IPID said of the deaths through police action, 22 percent occurred during the commission of crimes, four percent during escapes, 10 percent during investigations, 46 percent during arrests while 2 percent of those killed were innocent bystanders.

David Bruce, senior researcher at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, said it was “clear that police management does not know what is going on”. He said there was “clear absence of understanding from police leadership on how to deal with the use of force. Management has to take responsibility if this brutality is to be stopped.” According to Bruce it seemed the police’s solution for dealing with crime was the use of violence such as extra-judicial executions of alleged cop killers. “The impression being created is that police leadership believes that extra-legal methods are necessary to deal with violent crime. This leads to serious non-fatal police violence with reports of torture and assaults on the increase, even as police murders are on the decrease”. He said one of the biggest causes for concern was the lack of clarity in messages from management to police members on how to fight crime, he said.

Bruce said many policemen acted with good intentions, but because of a lack of skills and experience, the use of force caused more harm exposing officers to great danger. “What is worrying about this is that the use of force is often completely unnecessary, especially as the police involved could have dealt with the situations in another way. Even if police use lethal force with the intention of acting lawfully, they approach the subject with a ‘cover your a***’ attitude. They deal with the investigation in a way which will minimise the chance of being disciplined with the investigation being closed down as quickly as possible,” he said. Bruce is further reported saying the SAPS had to adopt professional standards with its leadership embracing a policing approach which emphasised the protection of human rights in order to solve this problem. Bruce said management has to take responsibility with the task needed to focus on creating a clear policy around the use of force. “If they do this, there will be greater community respect for police, effective policing and a greater respect for the law,” he said. It is therefore not clear whether by taking responsibility, as suggested by Bruce, this means Mthethwa and Phiyega should resign or be sacked as suggest by Gibson. Of course Bruce is not the first to question the police’s brutality. Annelize van Wyk, Parliament’s police portfolio committee acting chairperson also questioned the police services’ training following the Marikana massacre, saying there is a need to reconsider the training of police and the equipment they use.

Following the brutal murder of more than 40 alleged mining workers by police, Van Wyk said to play “blame game… would be irresponsible and insensitive.” She said further called on all commentators at the time to refrain from making any statements that could further “entice violence and endanger more lives”, adding there was a “need to look at the training of police members, relevant equipment in relation to the level of violence they are confronted with, and the role of our intelligence sources in gathering and analysing information in time to prevent the development of protests to the level of violence we have seen”

The problem, it seems, is that if we do not deal with and solve these brutal police training techniques in their training camps but instead want Zuma to fire the pair – we will continue to have these brutal behaviour and actions exerted on our innocent people for no apparent reason(s). As a result we will continue to have many like victims Tatane, Mido Marcia allegedly killed as a result of police brutality, and of course many others who came before them and those who still going to be killed by or at the hands of our police force. Therefore our failure as a nation to help solve and deal with these issues will result in many of these sad and traumatic consequences that often the police officers find themselves in especially if there no supportive structures in the organisation of the SAPS and therefore resulting in what the research called the free-floating rather than contained anxiety.

In conclusion and as eloquently put by M&G’s Phillip De Wet last week Friday on “Absent minister’s job is safe”, Mthethwa’s job is “safe”. Even better, the Marikana saga “did not cost [him] his job as police minister. Nor did the death of Andries Tatane in Ficksberg. So it came as a little surprise when President Jacob Zuma this week rejected calls for his head amid public outrage, and international incredulity, at the way police treated the taxi driver”.

Now like our own police minister, the same can be said about the police commissioner who at the time of writing (13 March) was giving her testimony before the Fanlam Commission of Inquiry in Rustenburg which had been instituted by Zuma to investigate what exactly happened and who should take the blame for what had happened during the Marikana saga.

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