Organs of state, such as the police, had a constitutional duty to organs of state to uphold the dignity of the courts and ensure the effectiveness of their orders, a judge has said in stating his reasons why he had found the SAPS to be in contempt of court for failing to safeguard long travel buses in the Eastern Cape.
Long-distance bus company Intercape has been embroiled in litigation with the police and transport government authorities after its bus service suffered a series of incidents.
It said the attacks on its buses were indicative of a deliberate strategy by rogue taxi operatives within certain parts of the province to subject it and its long-distance drivers and passengers to violence, intimidation and coercion to increase its rates.
Earlier, the bus company had turned to the Eastern Cape High Court in Makhanda, where it had obtained an order directing the SAPS to co-ordinate with other role players to ensure that there was a visible law enforcement presence at the loading points in hot spot towns.
The order also included that law enforcement escorts must be provided to the applicant’s buses along the hot spot routes and, where requested by Intercape on account of a legitimate concern over a risk of intimidation or violence.
The bus company returned to court in December. It accused the authorities of failing to implement Judge John Smith’s order to prevent violence and intimidation against the long-distance coaches.
It asked that National Police Commissioner Fannie Masemola and Eastern Cape Police Commissioner Nomthetheledi Mene be held in contempt of court for not implementing a plan to safeguard long distance buses in the province.
It also asked for an order directing that the officials be jailed for 90 days, pending compliance with the SAPS to implement a plan of action.
Judge Motilal Rugunanan issued an order shortly before Christmas, in which he held the officers in contempt of court. He, however, declined to commit them to prison for being wilfully in contempt of court.
As it was an urgent application that needed an urgent order, the judge said he would release his reasons for his order later, which he has done now.
Intercape said it sought the contempt relief because the SAPS had failed over several months to ensure that a visible law enforcement presence was maintained at its loading points, as required under last year’s court order.
It said that since the order had been made, there had been more attacks on the buses. It accused the SAPS of failing to implement the order.
Judge Rugunanan said that last year’s initial court order subsisted, notwithstanding the SAPS’s pending application for leave to appeal the interim order.
“Broadly speaking, the relief does no more than to compel the SAPS to comply with their constitutional and statutory obligations for the maintenance of safety and security and the prevention of acts associated with intimidation and violence directed against the applicant’s coach drivers and members of the travelling public utilising the applicant’s services,” the judge said.
The bus service told the court that the SAPS had not complied with last year’s court order as it provided visible law enforcement relief only on limited occasions. When it had shown up, it had done so only in the normal course of its duties and in locations of its choice.
In her answering affidavit, Mene denied that the SAPS had deliberately decided not to comply with the order. The national commissioner did not file an answering affidavit to the allegations but merely endorsed Mene’s submissions.
The judge said responsibility for ensuring compliance with the SAPS order fell not only on the provincial commissioner but also the national commissioner whom the Constitution decreed was the presidential appointee who exercised control over and managed the police service.
“The National Commissioner has powers wide enough to determine the distribution of the SAPS’s national resources and to divert and re-allocate them to the provinces where they are needed,” the judge said.
The judge was reluctant to make an order that restricted personal liberty by imposing a jail sentence for contempt of court on the two commissioners.
He said his order that they had to file an affidavit reporting to the court on steps taken to ensure that SAPS complied in full with the court order, would be sufficient.