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Cape Town - A report on the state of policing in Khayelitsha has revealed a force on the brink of collapse, with high levels of misconduct, absenteeism, and criminal cases not being adequately investigated.
It also shows that over 14 months, 78 people were killed by vigilante mobs, more than four times the number originally estimated.
There are 656 staff based at three police stations and over a year there were a staggering 701 disciplinary cases, some of which involved repeat offenders, including high-ranking officers. The three police stations in Khayelitsha perform their shifts with the minimum number of staff due to officers being absent on sick leave, leave or rest days.
The report said it was found that suspects were arrested and released without being charged, and witnesses and complainant statements are often not recorded.
The report is the work of a task team sent by national police chief Riya Phiyega to investigate the Khayelitsha police following complaints by NGOs about a breakdown in relations between the community and the police and an increase in vigilantism.
The task team carried out their investigation in July.
However, at the same time Premier Helen Zille was setting up a commission of inquiry into the same allegations.
“The reported contents of the internal SAPS assessment of the state of policing in Khayelitsha reveal a dire situation. This underscores the need for a commission of inquiry, which [should] not be further delayed,” said Zille.
The report is part of provincial commissioner Lieutenant-General Arno Lamoer’s affidavit, included among court papers filed by Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa in his attempt to stop Zille’s commission of inquiry.
The matter is to be heard by the high court on Monday.
In his affidavit, Mthethwa accuses Zille of playing politics and of having a political agenda in setting up the commission. He accuses her of wanting to conduct an inquiry into what should be a criminal investigation falling beyond her statutory and constitutional purview.
“It is inconsistent to allow the premier as a political functionary to authorise coercive criminal investigations as this opens the door to abuse for party political gain,” he said.
On Sunday, Joel Bregman, of the Social Justice Coalition - one of the five NGOs who spent two years trying to get the police and the provincial government to investigate the Khayelitsha police - said the report reflected the realities on the ground.
“It speaks to a vicious cycle, where the community does not trust the police and won’t hand over information and then take the law into their own hands,” Bregman said.
Some of the charges levelled against police officers include misconduct relating to the investigation of crime, including failure to send charged suspects to court and to register dockets.
The report said steps taken against officers were not proving to be a deterrent or remedy, considering the number who were repeat offenders.
From April 2011 to June 2012, 78 cases of vigilantism were recorded, according to a study by the cluster commander’s office. The study focused on cases that could be considered “bundu court” executions.
According to the report, investigations by detectives did not result in any “extraordinary achievements or successes”.
Although Khayelitsha is one of the Western Cape’s most densely populated areas, with high crime levels, experienced police officers have been attached to other units in the province. The report says 65 percent of warrant officer and 59 percent of sergeant posts at the Khayelitsha police station are vacant.
Timeline of inquiry showdown:
On Monday, Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa goes head to head with Premier Helen Zille in the Western Cape High Court to stop the commission of inquiry into the police.
Following months of agitation, NGO’s operating in Khayelitsha handed Zille a formal complaint in November last year.
On June 15, the Western Cape government decided there was “adequate prima facie evidence” to warrant the establishment of a provincial commission of inquiry.
On August 22, Zille announced the inquiry. At the end of August she announced that she would be ploughing on regardless of a request from Mthethwa to halt the inquiry, which he said was premature and unnecessary as there was an internal police investigation under way and Zille had not used the intergovernmental tools at her disposal.
On October 29, the first day set down for the inquiry, it was announced that the police were threatening legal action.
Mthethwa served papers last week, asking the court to interdict the inquiry from continuing.
The commission announced it was suspending its public hearings pending the outcome of the court hearings.