Cape Town -
The Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry on Friday returned to the contentious issue of what causes vigilante killings in the township, as its last four witnesses gave evidence.
This brought its second and final phase to a close.
The commission, announced by Western Cape Premier Helen Zille in August 2012, is investigating allegations of a breakdown in trust between the police and residents of Khayelitsha, as well as complaints of inefficiency at the area’s three police stations.
Dr Gail Super, a research associate at UCT’s centre for criminology, told commissioners Kate O’Regan and Vusi Pikoli that the reasons behind the township’s spate of vigilante killings were still unclear. She said describing them as the result of “spontaneous” community outrage was a crude explanation.
Lawyers for the police have argued that so-called “mob justice” or vigilante killings happen spontaneously and, by the time officers arrive on scene, often the victim is dead.
At other times, police have been able to rescue a victim from a mob.
But Super said that even “spontaneous outbursts of mob justice” had been shaped by previous events
“Not only is (vigilantism) a phenomenon that is not well understood, we don’t really know what it is,” she said.
In written testimony based on her research, Super said there were certain commonalities among victims of vigilante killings in the township.
“Most of the victims of vigilantism were young men, between the ages of 18 and 30, with at least half having either been caught in the act of stealing/robbing/housebreaking and/or suspected of same,” she said.
For residents of informal settlements the need to have stolen goods returned was extremely important, and violence often occurred in the retrieval.
Super agreed with police advocate Norman Arendse, when he put it to her that there were no easy fixes to stop the spate of vigilante killings.
The commission also heard evidence by video link from Oxford University.
Andrew Faull, a policing expert and former reservist, told the commission it was “bizarre” that real-time crime data was not available for South Africans to view.
“It just seems like an obvious measure,” said Faull.
The police had such data on hand, and if it were published weekly on the internet and in pamphlet form, people would be able to see which parts of their suburbs were dangerous and avoid them, he said
Crime statistics are published once a year.
Faull said that they were often out-of-date.
Speaking of how to improve relations between the police and community members, Faull said residents could be given score cards to fill in so the police would know what they saw as problems.
Dr Jonny Steinberg, a lecturer in African criminology, also from Oxford University, gave evidence after Faull.
Steinberg said that, although the police used a variety of techniques such as data capturing and sector policing to help prevent crime, “paramilitary style” interventions were still conducted.
These could strain relations between residents and the police.
“(The interventions) include gathering police into large formations during high crime moments and really ‘throwing them’ at populations,” said Steinberg.
“Police will travel around in large formations, often locking up young men, often indiscriminately on the grounds they may be drunk and therefore a crime risk.”
Steinberg said that for this reason communities could come to regard police as “fairly hostile”.
With the commission’s hearings finished, commissioners O’Regan and Pikoli will write a report to be submitted to the Western Cape premier.
According to the commission’s terms of reference, the report must investigate if allegations of police inefficiency and a breakdown in trust between the police and the community are true.
If found to be true, the report must include recommendations to improve matters.
Once submitted to the premier, the report will be sent to the Minister of Police.