Police management has admitted that the training of officers to deal with crowds - or public order policing - has been neglected since the dawn of democracy and particularly since SA hosted the World Cup.
During a briefing to Parliament’s police committee on Tuesday, the police top brass - including national police commissioner General Riah Phiyega - explained that crowd control training had “not been a priority” after 1994 as the country had become “pretty stable”.
“It is only in the wake of the new protests that crowd management training is once more coming to the fore,” briefing documents handed to the committee explained.
The top cops had been called to brief the committee on the role of crime intelligence in the police as well as the extent of specialist training in recent years.
Events in Marikana, North West, where 34 striking miners were gunned down by police on August 16, have raised serious questions about the police’s preparedness in dealing with crowds when confronted with such volatile situations. And experts have pointed to the shooting death of Andries Tatane in the Free State last year as a clear warning that appears to have been ignored by police management.
Jonny Steinberg, a research associate at Oxford University’s Centre for Criminology and a specialist in SA policing policy, has pointed to a lack of appropriate training and a sharp decline in specialist expertise within the police under former commissioner Jackie Selebi as a probable explanation for the Marikana massacre.
Speaking to the Daily Maverick’s Mandy de Waal this week, Steinberg noted that under Selebi, 278 specialist police units had been closed down as part of a massive restructuring drive that began in 2002 and resulted in an exodus of experts from the service.
“Marikana is about public order policing and about how you go about policing a violent crowd. It has to do with a very specialist function and what has happened to that (function)…
“If there had been proper public order policing (at Marikana), there would have been all sorts of alternatives to try before resorting to live ammunition,” Steinberg was quoted as saying.
Acting police committee chairwoman Annelize van Wyk opened proceedings on Tuesday by expressing “absolute disgust” at the alleged assault of arrested miners. - The Star