Cape Town - Western Cape
Premier Helen Zille has pulled in judicial heavyweights to head a commission of inquiry to investigate allegations of police inefficiency in Khayelitsha in a bid to promote an “effective justice system”.
The commission comes after a complaint was lodged nine months ago by five civil society organisations about the efficacy of the criminal justice system in Khayelitsha.
Announcing the commission on Wednesday, Zille said the breakdown in relations between residents and police is believed to have led to vigilante attacks, where residents “necklaced” criminal suspects amid claims that police had failed residents.
Retired Constitutional Court Judge Kate O’Regan has been appointed to chair the commission, alongside former National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) director Vusi Pikoli. They will report back to Zille within six months.
After repeated calls from civil society organisations to address police inefficiency, the premier appointed the commission at a cost of R5 million. She gave the complaints about police to the provincial and national police commissioners in November, but has not received a response.
The commission will investigate allegations of police inefficiency and a breakdown in relations between police and a community where at least 14 vigilante killings have occurred in the past few months.
The request for the commission came from the Treatment Action Campaign, the Social Justice Coalition (SJC), Equal Education, the Triangle Project and Ndifuna Ukwazi, all represented by the Women’s Legal Centre.
“The complaint alleged that there was systemic failure by SAPS in Khayelitsha to prevent, combat and investigate crime, take statements, open cases and apprehend criminals, resulting in a breakdown in relations between the community and police,” Zille said.
The organisations welcomed the appointment of the commission, saying it was a “crucially important development”. They said the long-term objective is that the commission will kick-start a process that will see “access to quality safety and justice”.
Axolile Notywala from the Social Justice Commission said: “We believe the commission will help the situation in Cape Town and the rest of the country.”
Speaking for Ndifuna Ukwazi, Zackie Achmat said: “This struggle has been going on since 2003 where we have been trying to get police to take violence against women and children, xenophobic violence, and hate crimes seriously.
“It’s been two years that the provincial government has denied that they had the power to appoint a commission. The mob justice could have been averted had the provincial government taken us seriously before.”
AdvocatesNazreen Bawa and Thembalihle Sidaki have been appointed to assist the commission to gather evidence.
Meanwhile, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) is investigating complaints of police corruption in Khayelitsha which has been blamed for provoking vigilante killings.
Directorate director Francois Beukman has said that they received a high number of complaints from Khayelitsha.
Zille’s spokesman, Zak Mbhele, said: “The Ipid investigation and the commission are two separate issues. The Ipid is looking at individual cases brought to their attention by residents, whereas the commission is looking at the systemic failures of SAPS in the area.
“The Ipid is part of SAPS and in the course of engaging with SAPS, the Ipid might be one of the structures that will be asked to make representations to the commission.”
ANC provincial secretary Songezo Mjongile criticised the decision, saying: “This is a political opportunity by the premier who has constantly refused to support the efforts of police… The real issue the commission has to investigate is drug and gang activity on the Cape Flats.”
He denied that Khayelitsha residents had lost faith in police.
“There are challenges with police and we need to look at how to help and support the work of police and to have a better relationship with the community,” Mjongile said.
Zille said the commission would compile a written report with findings and recommendations and submit it to her within six months.
The report will be considered by the provincial government, and recommendations will be made to the national minister of police.