SAHRC hearings: ‘Not enough staff to keep public order’ says police commissioner General Khehla Sitole
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DURBAN - NATIONAL police commissioner General Khehla Sitole says the Public Order Policing (POP) unit is understaffed and plans to rebuild it are reliant on budget allocation.
Currently, there are 5 005 POP officers when they were supposed to have 12 000. Sitole said the POP unit has been scaled down since 1993.
Sitole on Monday testified before the SA Human Rights Commission of (SAHRC) at the national investigative hearing into the July unrest.
Unrest swept through Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. The impact of the unrest and its associated activities had been devastating and left more than 340 people dead. The public demanded answers from the SAPS and SANDF, claiming they were not visible.
The SAHRC panel told Sitole similar utterances were made during the Farlam Commission of Inquiry into the Marikana massacre five years ago, but there were no changes with the POP unit.
Sitole repeated that budget cuts stifled growth in the SAPS and assured they were ready to respond rapidly if there was a repeat of July’s unrest.
He characterised the July unrest as a planned gathering with an unpredicted modus operandi.
“It was the first of its kind in the history of the SAPS. When we stabilised one hotspot, they’d start another. The police were overstretched. We need to sharpen our response and increase capacity. Working with Community Policing Forums helped us end the unrest.”
He could not provide the total number of deaths in Gauteng and KZN as these were still under investigation.
Gauteng police commissioner Lieutenant-General Elias Mawela said the police were overwhelmed and its 23 000 members were meant to look after the safety of 15.8 million people. He laid bare the number of institutions, taxi ranks, clinics and courts they had to police.
Mawela said they were stretched thin on the ground and also had to deal with the Covid-19 lockdown interprovincial movement.
Gauteng POP deployed 55 members to assist KZN on July 10.
National Assembly Speaker and former defence minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, said the SANDF were deployed to support the police and protect national key points and the trade routes between Gauteng and Durban, dubbed Operation Prosper.
She said they were waiting for a directive from the SAPS before deploying. Mapisa-Nqakula said police at that stage did not indicate that they were overwhelmed. She said it started with looting and moved on to the destruction of infrastructure.
“When we wrote the Defence Act, we did not want the troops to be used against South Africans … The Defence Force is not trained for crowd control or preventing people from committing crimes. People provoke soldiers in the community.
“We were running around like headless chickens. We wanted to be on the ground. We realised the situation could get out of hand. The first day of deployment was on national key points. Then we had more troops to assist with law enforcement including the malls, by then looted and gutted.”
Mapisa-Nqakula said to date nobody has been charged for treason.