SAPS brutality must be addressed from the top

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One wonders where exactly the South African Police Service (SAPS) gets its hard-handedness from; is it our Apartheid-past and militant-style of policing, or have we failed as a society to transform our engagement with our law enforcement agencies?

Whatever the reason, thousands of South Africans cannot all be wrong, and cannot be blamed for how they are treated by the SAPS. Therefore, it is left to me to take this grievance to the top.

The top echelons of policing in our country – led by Police Minister, General Bheki Cele, and the SAPS National Commissioner, Kehla Sitole, and others – are responsible for the thousands of sergeants, constables and brigadiers. All receive their marching orders received from the top.

Lest we forget, it was not too long ago that the Department of Police pushed for reforms in terms of modelling the SAPS structure based on our National Defence Force. Some may say that these changes were purely cosmetic, but I firmly believe that it has had an effect on our psyche, as well as the officers who bear the badges and are decorated in militant gear.

Post-apartheid policing in our country has taken a turn as our society has become more violent. We have seen that officers in blue are now less liked, but more feared; less competent and thorough, but more determined to close cases; and are less respected, but now more willing to shoot and kill.

The agency charged with the responsibility of ensuring that SAPS Officers are compliant with the rule of law is the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID). Yet, this entity of the state is not very independent, as it reports to the political head of the SAPS.

To compound matters, the IPID is critically underfunded, understaffed and is not able to meaningfully affect change within the SAPS from the outside, looking in.

IPID may have their work cut out for them, as many more SAPS officers turn rogue and join those who are under investigation, suspended or banned from the SAPS.

I can agree with the National SAPS spokesperson, Vish Naidoo when he says that is unfair to say “that all officers are focussed on and guilty of police brutality and killing of criminals who cross their paths”. However, these utterances go amiss when the SAPS throws a blind eye to facts that are the lived experiences of communities across our country.

I can totally understand that it is dangerous to be a police officer in our country. But our SAPS cannot be deaf to what is happening from the ground up.

There is no doubt that our society is becoming more violent. This is captured by many agencies, and the SAPS itself – with the release of the annual Crime Statistics.  Thankfully, as these figures are now released on a quarterly basis, we are better able to track and monitor how crime is escalating in our country.

We are now also better able to hold the Minister and his Department accountable as representatives elected by the public to keep South Africans safe from harm.

The violent nature of our society cannot be greeted with more violence from our police. Particularly as many of our communities no longer believe in the ability of the SAPS to keep them safe.

There is a clear lack of respect for the police and the rule of law due to past, present and current cases seen on every television screen, in newspaper articles and on social media feeds. But as the old saying goes, respect is a two-way street.

A lack of respect and a lack of accountability, combined with the use of deadly force, are factors which unfortunately engender fear of the police in our society. We are scared to speak up and speak out for fear of getting killed.

Those right at the top cannot give mixed messages to the masses who serve in uniform. Integrity, respect and professionalism must be tabled and enacted in order to restore the public’s faith in our police service.

It is unfortunate that South Africans continue to feel unsafe in their homes, on the streets, and in their towns, cities and provinces.

Moreover, we cannot boost investor confidence, grow the economy and change the lives of the unemployed young people in our country when we continually live in fear of crime. When a woman, a girl or any member of the public walks with fear, it is because the very agency which is constitutionally mandated to protect and defend us fails to do so.

The IFP is rooted in the belief that our society cannot achieve its full potential while we live in fear. Safety, security and access to justice, are rights and liberties which must be guaranteed for all South Africans. We must feel safe – and be safe – in order to prosper.

There is no silver bullet for the SAPS, but there certainly is a place to start – at the top, with those in charge of the SAPS leading by example and promoting a culture of human-rights based policing.

Zandile Majozi, MP, is the IFP’s Spokesperson on Police.