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Almost unnoticed in the current maelstrom of events, we have ourselves another commission of inquiry in Cape Town.
Premier Helen Zille has launched the intriguing duo of former Constitutional Court Justice Kate O’Regan and fired NPA boss advocate Vusi Pikoli into the mess that is policing in Khayelitsha.
With a reported 13 recent deaths from vigilante justice in the sprawling township and a litany of complaints reaching her office, the premier argues that this is the only effective course of action open to her. In her statement she details the response, or, more accurately, the lack of one from the national police commissioner’s office over a long period on serious policing problems in the area which led her, with great reluctance, she says, to establish the commission.
Justice O’Regan and Pikoli have been given a broad mandate to submit a report with findings and recommendations within six months.
Good luck to both of them with that one because, as always with these commissions, this is a political football wrapped up as a quasi-legal process. You take a controversial issue and put a judge in charge and, hey presto, an appearance of instant and neutral gravitas is achieved.
The premier has been trying to assert greater authority over policing processes ever since she took office, without any real success. She wants to get stuck into law and order problems but her hands are tied and, no doubt, this frustrates her enormously. She has powers of oversight and monitoring, and is entitled to be consulted, but she has little else to work with. A commission of inquiry is the biggest card in her limited constitutional hand and now she has played it.
To what end? If the cops don’t co-operate, this will achieve absolutely nothing and, to date, they have been less than enthusiastic about the idea.
Should the SAPS challenge all or parts of the process legally, or only appear with reluctance, Justice O’Regan and Pikoli’s task is immediately compromised. As it will be if any significant community groupings decide to disrupt or boycott proceedings.
And should the commissioners make resounding and far-reaching recommendations, the premier has no powers to implement them.
She will shout loudly and beat the police minister with a rolled- up copy of the report, but if he chooses to ignore her, or to only pay lip service to them, then we’re back to square one.
The commissioners can do some valuable diagnostic work, give a public airing to powerful testimony and crisply summarise available evidence, but a team of decent investigative journalists could do a better job of that in six weeks rather than six months at a fraction of the cost.
Surely we already know the horrendous scale of the problem; it’s how to change operational policing on the ground that matters and I’m not sure that Kate O’Regan and Vusi Pikoli, for all their legal talents, are the right people to assess that.
Zille speaks as if she were compelled to establish this commission. She was not. She received requests to do so from some community organisations, but could have ignored them, as she does, say, the “requests” from the ANC Youth League.
She has deliberately chosen to have this fight in this form and in the process she may have deepened the divide between herself and the national force rather than bridged it. But if the result is better policing in Khayelitsha somewhere down the line, then she will be vindicated and she has certainly proven me, and other chirping commentators, wrong in this kind of area in the past.