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Cape Town -
The police force was brutal before 1994, and its DNA has not changed in the past 20 years, says civil rights activist Zackie Achmat.
Addressing the Cape Town Press Club on Wednesday, Achmat, head of the Social Justice Coalition, welcomed the Constitutional Court’s go-ahead earlier this month of Western Cape Premier Helen Zille’s commission of inquiry into policing in Khayelitsha.
“Our hope is that the commission of inquiry will set a five-year-plan to make Khayelitsha safe, and to restructure police there,” Achmat said.
The coalition had drawn attention to what appeared to be a breakdown of policing in the sprawling township, leading to an increasing number of vigilante attacks and the decision by Zille last year to establish the commission.
Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa went to court to stop the inquiry but the Western Cape High Court and the Constitutional Court ruled against him.
Referring to the police killings of miners at Marikana, Achmat said: “The Marikana massacre brought home in the consciousness of every person in South Africa the extent to which the police are cruel, acting unlawfully, most often incompetently, with only one thing in mind, their own survival as a bureaucracy.”
Quoting a magistrate in the then Transvaal in 1918, he said police were “largely illiterate, mostly ignorant, profoundly brutal and cruel”.
As the years went by, the background of the police force was “a cruel context of violent colonialism and subsequently apartheid”, Achmat said.
“The apartheid police service was predominantly black African and coloured – its top ranks were predominantly white and rather evil.”
When that police force entered the transitional period “its DNA did not change”.
Most of the former white top cops had now gone, but “every black homeland official” who was in the police service was still there unless he or she had died in the intervening period.
While there might have been a demographic shift in the colour of police management, “there has been absolutely no shift – in fact there has been a cementing of the cruelty – and what was brought in addition to the old order were young traumatised men from civil self-defence units, Achmat said.
That was the picture of the modern-day police service.