Police Minister General Bheki Cele released report by a panel of experts, looking into policing and crowd control within the South African Police Service. Picture: Ntswe Mokoena/GCIS
Police Minister General Bheki Cele released report by a panel of experts, looking into policing and crowd control within the South African Police Service. Picture: Ntswe Mokoena/GCIS

Bheki Cele calls for ’softer’ approach than rubber bullets to control crowds during unrest

By Kailene Pillay Time of article published Mar 30, 2021

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Durban - The use of rubber bullets as a means to control crowds during protests and unrest is being looked at urgently with Police Minister Bheki Cele insisting on a "softer" approach using minimal force.

Cele was speaking during the release of a report by a panel of experts tasked with looking into policing and crowd management as part of the recommendations made by the Farlam Commission which investigated the Marikana tragedy.

The police minister released the 596-page report titled “Policing and Crowd Management”. The panel that produced it was steered by the late Judge David Sakelene Vusimuzi Ntshangase and appointed by the Cabinet in 2016.

The Farlam Commission recommendations included the assurance that no automatic rifles may be used in crowd control, and that lethal force may not be used for the protection of property only. However, whenever life and property are endangered simultaneously, the use of lethal force will be warranted.

Chaired by retired judge Ian Farlam, the Marikana commission tasked the panel to investigate “the world’s best practices” for crowd-management control “without resorting to the use of weapons capable of automatic fire”.

The recent killing of Mthokozisi Ntumba, a bystander, during student protests Wits University students in Johannesburg, once again cast a spotlight on the use of rubber bullets.

Cele said the issue was also raised “sharply” by the members of the expert panel.

“I have also received various inputs on this matter for consideration. The use of rubber bullets as a means of crowd control management is being looked into urgently by relevant structures,” Cele said.

The panel’s terms of reference included strategy and policy, public order policing processes and procedures, professionalisation and demilitarisation of the police, and accountability and transparency in all SAPS operations.

The panel put forward a detailed programme for the professionalisation of SAPS for reforms in crowd management.

The review of the SAPS code of conduct, along with issues of discipline, training and recruitment, and competency were also contained in the panel’s findings.

While issuing a call to police officers to remain obliged to fulfil their constitutional mandate of maintaining public order, protecting and securing the country’s people, Cele added that it was “worrying” that protests were often turning violent and dangerous.

“The fact is that communities resort to violent demonstrations if and when they feel their voices are not heard when their basic needs are not met. Today, I am making a call on municipalities and other stakeholders to become far more proactive in removing the root causes leading to violent protests,” he said.

And while South Africans have a right to assemble “peacefully and unarmed”, Cele warned that the attacks on police officers, property and businesses during protests would not be tolerated.

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