Johannesburg - Robert McBride moved one step closer to a bulging in-tray as head of the watchdog Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) this week when Parliament’s police oversight committee approved his nomination for the job.
This is likely to be confirmed by the National Assembly soon after Parliament is opened by President Jacob Zuma on February 13.
It is not only events in the village of Relela, near Tzaneen in Limpopo – where three villagers died after police opened fire on angry crowds this week – that will require McBride’s urgent attention.
There is also Mothlutlung (four dead), Cato Manor (two shot, one dead) and the death of Mido Macia last year, the Marikana massacre of 2012 (34 dead) and the death of Andries Tatane in Ficksburg in 2011, to list only the well-publicised cases of deaths at the hands of police. On top of this, public confidence in the police is in tatters, driving many desperate communities to take the law into their own hands.
As head of Ipid, McBride will have a key role to play in turning things around by restoring the belief that the men and women in blue are not above the law and can be held answerable for their actions.
Research for Freedom House done by Wits academic Professor Susan Booysen, released last year under the title Twenty years of South African democracy: citizen views of human rights, governance and the political system, illustrates the collapse in confidence in the police.
“Overwhelmingly negative perceptions of police corruption are one of the core findings of this project – it is pervasive, incriminating and disconcerting,” the report says.
The police suffered “a severe crisis of community confidence”, said Booysen’s report, which canvassed focus groups from around the country.
“What matters is not what you do, say these citizens, but rather who you know in the police or in political ranks above the police. The outcome also depends upon how much money you have to impress the police and get immunity, or arrange a better deal for yourself in the face of your transgression.”
The huge increase in violent protests over the past few years, attributed to, among others, failures of service delivery and political battles for control over resources, especially at local government level, has increasingly thrust the police into situations where they become the focus of community anger.
Chairwoman of Parliament’s police committee Annelize van Wyk (ANC) said this was cause for deep concern.
“As long as there’s an increase in protests, the way we police them, it is going to be a situation of us and them in the community’s mind.
“And that can undermine trust in the police,” she said.
Om Friday, DA chief whip Watty Watson said he would request a parliamentary inquiry into the “crisis”.
“The fact is that police brutality has become a national crisis for the first time since 1994,” said DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko.
While it was true service delivery protests had increased steadily, the police had a responsibility to demonstrate good training, she said.
In nominating McBride, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa had chosen a “controversial and politically connected” figure to protect the poice and the minister from scrutiny, she said.