SAPS accused of being disrespectful to Commission

| Adam Armstrong
Crowds gather at the Khayelitsha CoI. Photo by Adam Armstrong.

Hearings and submissions of oral evidence started at the Commission of Inquiry in Khayelitsha today. The hall at Lookout Hill was packed with member of the Social Justice Coalition, residents of Khayelitsha, academics and journalists.

The opening statements consisted of a mix of legal interpretation and political jostling. The Commission chairperson, the evidence leaders, South African Police Service (SAPS), the Department of Community Safety (DOCS), the City of Cape Town, Individual Complainants, NGOs and the Women’s Legal Centre all made submissions.

The two keys issues were the constitutional right to be free of violence and crime and the legal mandate of the Commission. Almost 50,000 pages have been submitted, the majority of which came from SAPS. The evidence leaders, in providing the background information for the Commission have created an extensive list of witnesses. These include, for example, experts on domestic violence, the social and economic status of Khayelitsha, the history of the area, policing statistics, criminology and youth at risk.

The Commission is broadly looking at the social and economic context of Khayelitsha, in order to more narrowly understand policing activities within the township. Because of this, the City and the Province (who are responsible for providing services such as a toilets, drinking water, electricity and lighting) may be apportioned responsibility for lack of service delivery contributing to the township’s high crime.

The opening statements of the chairperson and evidence leaders are available on the Commission website.

Ncumisa Mayosi, representing the complainant organisations, outlined the various issues that they had with policing, including poor investigations, high rates of violence and lack of police assistance to community members. She further stated that their aim was to contribute positively to a solution, not to blame SAPS.

Michael Osborne, representing DOCS, welcomed the Commission. He spoke specifically about staffing in Khayelitsha. On average across the country there are 300 citizens per police officer. In Harare, a suburb of Khayelitsha, the ratio is 1,000 to one. He described this as “utterly inadequate”.

The City was quick to position itself as outside of the mandate of the Commission, but willing to cooperate and contribute.

Thebogo Motshohi, represented three individual complainants, a Mr and Mrs Simelela and a Mr Magadla. They were robbed and later turned to vigilante activities and chose not to report the initial crimes to the police. Their role in the Commission will be to explain what happened and why they did it.

Norman Arendse, representing SAPS, said that while the police welcome the Commission, policing in an informal space such as Khayelitsha is difficult, if not impossible. He went on to say that “the police should be lauded, not blamed”. He made the Commission aware of the difficult task the police face, but glossed over the litany of offences they have been accused of. He ended saying that all complainants are welcome, they should “Come forward, but tread lightly as we all need the police”.

After opening statements, Adv. Pikoli pressed the SAPS legal team for clarity about when some outstanding documents would be handed over. A member of the legal team said that delays in government were the reason the documents had not yet been given to the Commission. He further said that Advocate Pikoli would understand this as he had worked for government in the past. Advocate Pikoli smiled and responded “Yes, that is why I no longer work for government.”

After the opening statements Mr Bhekithemba Simelane, from the Department of Community Safety, was the first witness to testify. He was led by evidence leader Advocate Bawa. He provided geographical information and various maps of Khayelitsha.

Until then the tone of the Commission had been amicable and cooperative. Adv. Arendse was the first to break this, in his cross-examination of Simelane. He questioned his qualifications and his ability to inform the Commission on geography. “Are you suggesting that a person who has an honours degree in geography is not qualified to be an expert on the issue of maps?” Justice O’Regan asked Arendse.

Before the lunch adjournment there was a discussion around the nature of the Commission. Justice O’Regan emphasised that the Commission is not an adversial process, but rather an investigatorial one. It was disclosed that a sheet of 87 questions intended for cross-examination of the Social Justice Coalition’s first witness, Phumeza Mlungwana, was handed in at 10am today by SAPS’ legal counsel. Questions are supposed to be submitted at least three days prior to witnesses taking the stand. Representatives for the Complainants expressed concern about this breech in rules. Zackie Achmat of Ndifuna Ukwazi described this “… as either deliberate or negligently late. It is disrespectful of the Commission.” Justice O’Regan ruled that cross-examination will only be permitted next week.

In the afternoon evidence was given by Bishop Daluxolo Mtsolo of Ilitha Methodist Church of South Africa, who has lived and worked in Khayelitsha since 1990. He spoke on his experience of policing in Khayelitsha. He said “Let’s not fight with the police, for they are our brothers and sisters.” He went on to describe the difficult living conditions in Khayelitsha.

Adam Armstrong is covering the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry for GroundUp.

TOPICS:  Civil Society Government Khayelitsha Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry into Policing Policing

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