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ISS tells SAHRC’s probe that use of rubber bullets in July unrest and looting in KZN, Gauteng was not effective

Public Order Police members. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Public Order Police members. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Published Dec 3, 2021


Durban - The Institute for Security Studies has told the South African Human Rights Commission’s probe into the July unrest that the use of rubber bullets in Public Order Policing was largely ineffective and the country’s police needed to be more innovative in public order policing.

This was the assertion of David Bruce, an independent researcher in the fields of policing and public security who works for the ISS on a consultancy basis, during his testimony before the commission’s panel overseeing the inquiry on Thursday afternoon.

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“There’s a further criticism or question that can be raised about this type of use of rubber bullets in a situation of generalised looting and that this is largely ineffective and to a large degree may largely contribute to moving the problem around where it will chase people from one area and they’ll simply go to another area.

“We make a submission that the manner in which rubber bullets were used in the context of the large scale looting was quite likely ineffective and didn’t really contribute very much and it raises the issue of what type of innovations or alternative approaches should the police have applied,” Bruce said.

He added that what was failing the country’s police was not just the individuals in senior positions within the SAPS but it was the system of political authority over the police.

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“When we are looking at problems and we are looking at the shortcomings of where we are failing or where we are going wrong in relation to the governance of the police, we also have to look there in the political authority over the police.

“In many ways this actually starts with the president, so the one thing is that the president appoints the national commissioner of the SAPS and of course the president appoints the minister of police and so there’s some quite pivotal decisions that are made at that level,” Bruce said.

He said that what was more desirable was for a similar process to the appointing of the National Director of Public Prosecutions through an open selection process on the basis of the merits of the person’s suitability for the job.

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“There can be no doubt that a process of that kind needs to be integrated into the appointment procedures for the senior leadership of the police,” Bruce said.

An earlier presentation of evidence before the inquiry heard evidence from the UPL Cornubia Fire Civil Society action group’s Professor Rajan Naidoo, from the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Occupational and Environmental Health Department.

Naidoo told the inquiry that the fire and chemical spillage at the United Phosphorus Limited (UPL) warehouse in Cornubia, north of Durban, was an environmental disaster that directly affected the environment around the warehouse and it also affected human health.

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The fire and cocktail of chemical spillage came after the warehouse was torched during the July unrest leading to a canopy of black smoke engulfing areas around the warehouse including the Blackburn Village informal settlement.

He said that the impact on the environment also had consequences on people who may live off that environment, including fisher folk who do subsistence fishing in the water around the area.

“Those things had to stop, so it affects the livelihoods. There’s also issues in terms of human health, there will be effects on health in short term, medium term and long term and it was why we were arguing very strongly that health services be provided for this community,” Naidoo said.

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Political Bureau