The security challenges ahead

Published Jun 19, 2024


Most South Africans live in fear of rampant violent crime, with confidence in policing plunging to an all-time low of 21 percent in 2021/22. Under successive ministers, and the absence of proper oversight, corruption and nepotism escalated along with continuing political interference.

All parties in our new unity government must stand firm in ensuring that the best possible candidate is appointed to this crucial safety portfolio. This position calls for demonstrated probity and competence, and any unconstitutional operational ministerial involvement must be forbidden.

Section 58 of the Constitution details the role of executive members, who should initiate relevant legislation and policy, and, through oversight, ensure that they are implemented by departmental heads. Immediate changes relating to policing are called for, as per the National Development Plan and the 2018 Panel of Experts report on Policing and Crowd Management.

Changes include demilitarisation, greatly improved training and equipment, and the appointment of an independent board to oversee policing. A revision of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) legislation complying with the Constitutional Court judgment ordering the Directorate’s independence is overdue, as is the appointment of a Hawks oversight judge.

IPID too, urgently, needs a judicial oversight body, and an independent inquiry into documented abuses involving its staff in defeating the ends of justice.

Because IPID is beset with serious problems, there is little justice for the hundreds of people who die at the hands of police, including in custody, and countless victims of abuse and torture at their hands.

In 2023, the SAPS were being sued for R108 billion rand for unlawful arrests, killings and assaults by police. Crucial evidence is often lacking because forensic mortuaries have been rendered dysfunctional, especially in KZN. Mortuary services must be removed from the sole control of the Department of Health.

The National Commissioner of Police is almost halfway through his term of office. Thus far, his role in appointing management members, and taking responsibility for operational matters, was constantly (and illegally) obstructed by the outgoing minister.

Unlike many fast tracked into management through cronyism, he has over thirty years of experience and had been well trained by the apartheid era police (black SAP members had the same training as whites).

He must be left to exert his authority while the new minister ensures that he does so in terms of the SAPS Act and the Constitution.

However, the new police portfolio committee must conduct due oversight of both the minister and the national commissioner, which the last one failed, conspicuously, to do.

The argument that provinces need more policing powers is spurious. They already have sufficient powers, including in decisions about provincial commissioners, and intelligence gathering.

Rural safety issues, including that of farmers, must be addressed. Rural black communities are extremely vulnerable, as distances to stations are generally greater and roads much worse than in urban areas. The introduction of mounted police needs serious consideration.

Prioritisation in depoliticising and professionalising intelligence services, including at station level, is overdue.

The need to depoliticise also applies to the State Security Agency. Although revised intelligence legislation has been passed by Parliament, the jury is out about whether it meets constitutional obligations about sufficient civilian oversight.

The new police minister will bear responsibility for the national Civilian Secretariat and PSIRA (Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority), which regulates the security industry.

Neither are fulfilling their roles adequately, and need far better oversight, including on senior appointments. The Secretariat fails completely in its mandate (as do the provincial bodies) and produces poor legislation which has to be rejected.

The official report into the July 2021 violence and looting, quite correctly, expressed concern about PSIRA regulatory failures. Unregistered or non-compliant security companies and bodyguards, especially linked to politicians and the taxi industry deploying hitmen, pose a serious threat to stability, as many of them appear awash with weapons.

Guns seized during an intelligence-led investigation by the provincial organised crime unit in KZN that led to the arrest of four suspects for the alleged attempted murder of a minibus taxi passenger in Ulundi. Unregistered or non-complaint security companies and bodyguards, especially linked to politicians and the taxi industry deploying hitmen, pose a serious threat to stability, as many of them appear awash with weapons, the writer says. – Picture: Supplied

The serious problem of easy access to guns and ammunition (some police and military issue; 742 police guns were lost or stolen during 2022/2023 ) must be urgently addressed by SAPS, ideally with some forensic legal assistance, including improved oversight and auditing of gun shops.

A recent investigative documentary revealed shocking abuses, including threats to corruption investigators, in the SANDF.

The mistakes of the outgoing government – which deployed the army when it should not have during Covid lockdown and failed to do it timeously to prevent huge economic damage in July 2021 – must never be repeated.

Only in exceptional circumstances, such as assisting police with roadblocks, or disaster management, should deployment be authorised.

As we test the governance waters with the GNU, we must all put pressure on those we elected to report back to constituencies, and exercise proper parliamentary oversight.

As the lone voice of Helen Suzman showed during the worst of apartheid, opposition parties can make a big impact, but only if they do their jobs properly – which, thus far, most have failed to do.

* De Haas is a violence monitor in KZN, an honorary Research Fellow at the University of KZN’s School of Law and a member of the Navi Pillay Research Group on justice and human rights

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media