Cape Town - Police in Khayelitsha rarely responded to complainants in person, and human rights NGOs are “always having to go to police”, says prominent social activist Zackie Achmat.
On Monday, Achmat, who has a long history of run-ins with apartheid police and spoke of his experiences of police brutality, addressed the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry.
Achmat spoke in his capacity as the director of Ndifuna Ukwazi – one of a group of local NGOs that have rallied together to lodge complaints against the police – claiming that crime was rife and, because of police inefficiency, residents were forced to take the law into their own hands.
The commission has been set up to probe allegations of police inefficiency and a breakdown in relations between the police and Khayelitsha residents.
Achmat spoke passionately about the murders of lesbians Lorna Mlofana, Nandipha Makeke and Zoliswa Nokonyana, and the effect the murders had on their families.
He slammed police for not taking some investigations seriously. Achmat also criticised the courts for failing the victims’ families, with some cases postponed between 15 and 50 times.
“It’s always us that have to go to the police,” he said.
It was rare that police would get back to complainants.
The commission also heard from two retired police officers who highlighted a high absenteeism rate among officers, a lack of resources, staff shortages and the heavy case load handed to detectives.
Glenn Schooling, a former deputy provincial commissioner of operations, and Martin Leamy, head of support services and an acting station commander who had both served more than 30 years, testified.
Schooling said low morale was a big contributor to absenteeism figures and that absenteeism had a ripple effect on the number of vehicles that could be deployed because two officers were required per car.
They also spoke of the attitude of some officers and how it contributed to problems within the service.
“It comes down to taking responsibility for what you are doing. A lot of the time it comes down to the attitude of members. Attitude plays a big role in this,” said Schooling.
“In all fairness, when you have to comply with instructions in a register you must do it.”
Schooling said that every police station was required to conduct first- and second-level inspections.
A report prepared by Schooling and Leamy said the basic command and control elements of first- and second-level inspections at Harare SAPS were not functioning effectively.
They added that cumulatively it portrayed a “dysfunctional overall picture of the greater Khayelitsha area”.
Commanders were therefore unable to have an informed and honest assessment of their stations.
“There is, therefore, no opportunity to exercise effective command and control.”
The report said that if the basic inspections were not run correctly, it would handicap police in carrying out their basic crime prevention duties.
Commission chairwoman Kate O’Regan noted that she had seen a range of reports over the years identifying problems at the area’s police stations.
“What doesn’t seem to be apparent is any actual action other than the reporting of problems,” she said.