File picture: Skyler Reid.
Durban - Police officers have been warned that they will be held “accountable” for giving political parties or the media information which embarrasses the service.

The instruction, which appears to have been issued only in KwaZulu-Natal, has been criticised as a move to gag officers and prevent the disclosure of wrongdoing in the service.

A letter leaked to the Daily News on Tuesday stipulates who should address political parties during oversight visits, and what should be communicated.

The letter, dated 2018/0823, signed by deputy provincial commissioner Major-General Bheki Langa, was directed to all KZN cluster commanders.

The opening paragraph of the letter reads: “It has come to the attention of the Acting Provincial Commissioner of KwaZulu-Natal SA Police Service, Lieutenant-General (Nhlanhla) Mkhwanazi, that political parties are having access to police stations and other police premises to conduct party political agendas. Recently the DA conducted visits and carried interviews at clusters and stations in the province without prior knowledge of the SA Police Service Provincial Headquarters Management”.

It further states that only dedicated spokespersons may speak on behalf of the service, provided that such spokespersons had been authorised by the provincial commissioner.

“No member, irrespective of rank, may in any way furnish any information to any political party, a private institution or individual, if the disclosure of such information may prejudice, embarrass or discredit the SA Police Service. Members will be held accountable for statements made to political parties or individuals belonging to a political party regarding the (police) service”.

“It must be strictly adhered to by members to refrain from criticising the SAPS for whatever reason to a political party, politician or the media,” the letter said.

Dianne Kohler Barnard, DA national spokesperson for police, said the letter explained the difficulties her team experienced while performing their oversight duties over the past two months.

She said they had been in various parts of the country and had never “experienced something like this before”.

“Not one province has ever resorted to this kind of tactic to try and stop oversight visits. The cluster head in Dundee came in and forbade the station commander from talking to us. In Newlands East, Malvern, Cato Manor, Brighton Beach and Umbilo, our work was made difficult. Some station commanders were polite, but had stated clearly that they would be fired if they spoke to me or were forbidden to talk to us. It is so bizarre that the provincial acting commissioner would go this far to stop oversight visits,” Kohler Barnard said.

On Tuesday the team visited the police garage in Balfour Road, Jacobs. They were in the company of the media, but the latter was prohibited entry to the facility which houses about 300 police patrol vehicles, all taken in for normal servicing or for repairs to accident damage.

Kohler Barnard said there were around 7000 patrol vehicles in KZN and 16 garages in various clusters.

“That garage is run efficiently, but the concern is the number of vehicles which were parked there following their involvement in collisions. There needs to be consequence management at station level to ensure that if one has erred, then they should be responsible for the damaged vehicles,” she said.

The provincial police confirmed receipt of questions seeking comment on the matter, but no response was received by the time of publication.

KZN violence monitor and analyst Mary de Haas said there was nothing wrong with the police giving information to the media.

She said any clampdown on information would do further damage to existing problems in the police service.

Francois Beukman, chairperson of the national police portfolio committee, said members of both the national and provincial parliaments were allowed to access police facilities for oversight as long as the relevant station commanders were informed.

“This letter was talked about in parliament, but I have not seen it. During visits, SAPS members can engage with the MPs and MPLs, provided that information that could jeopardise investigations or national security cannot be shared. I don’t know or haven’t heard of any other province which has issued this kind of letter,” he said.

Daily News