LOVENESS James, 22, and her friend Marriam Mbambichi, 25, both from Malawi, spent a night at Sydenham police station last week following a flare-up of xenophobic violence in the Durban suburb. Picture: Zanele Zulu African News Agency (ANA)
Durban - DESPITE authorities talking tough, there have been no arrests two weeks after violence broke out between locals and foreigners in Durban. Four people died, hundreds were displaced and shops looted. 

But there have been no consequences for those behind the attacks. Before dawn on March 25, a mob attacked and burnt a spaza shop in Kenville owned by a Pakistani. 

The owner opened fire and Sonwabile Dladla, 23, and Kwanele Mkhize, 26, were killed. Hours later the mob converged on China City Mall to demand jobs. They accused shop owners of not hiring locals. 

An employee, Anitha Premdaw, 48, fell from a roof while trying to escape. She subsequently died. Almost a week later, as the violence spread to other areas, Bhekani Madlala, 44, from uMlazi, lost his life, when he was allegedly shot by foreigners. 

P olice confirmed the number of deaths but admitted that no arrests had been made. 

Lieutenant-Colonel Thulani Zwane, KwaZulu-Natal police spokesperson, said cases of murder, public violence, arson and looting were being investigated. 

Advocate Moipane Noko, director of public prosecutions in the province, said the National Prosecution Authority (NPA) could only act if there was evidence provided by the police. 

Gareth Newham of the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) said: “The primary challenge is that there is inadequate crime intelligence on the perpetrators of attacks on foreign nationals. Policing has generally been deteriorating over much of the past decade resulting in substantial increase in murder and robbery.” 

Experts and police sources said the unit tasked with keeping the peace, the SAPS Public Order Policing unit (POP) was “out of its depth”. 

Furthermore, the sheer number of protests made the job difficult. In 2018, there were 3 300 protests, many of which turned violent. These figures are from the ISS’s Justice and Violence Prevention Programme. 

Newham, who heads up the programme, said there were about seven protests daily and police resources were stretched. In April last year, a report was compiled by local and international experts on how the police could handle crowd control more effectively. 

The panel, chaired by retired Judge David Ntshangase, was set up by the government after recommendations from the Marikana Commission of Inquiry headed by Judge Ian Farlam. Parliament gave the go-ahead in 2016 and, at the time, then-minister of police Nathi Nhleko appointed members to Judge Ntshangase’s panel. 

Newham, who was among the panel of 12, said: “One year later, and the 400- page long report with 130 recommendations is still sitting with the minister of police.” 

According to Newham, there are about 5 000 members in the POP unit but they were not completely dedicated to crowd control duty. 

“POP units are not managed nationally but by provincial police commissioners, who are more concerned with ordinary police functions and deploy POP members to other duties. 

“Sometimes, when they arrive on the scene, there are not many of them, they don’t have the right equipment and the necessary intelligence,” said Newham. 

He added that more resources, strategies, training, technology, vehicles or personnel would not improve POP. 

Newham said a complete overhaul of the SAPS top brass was needed as too many “political appointments” had been made. 

“In 2017 alone, acting national commissioner Khomotso Phahlane made 55 top brass appointments (brigadiers, major-generals and generals) without vetting them. There was no indication whether they had the integrity or skills to do the job.” 

Newham said experienced and highly trained people who are committed to police work were required to improve policing in the country. 

KZN violence monitor Mary de Haas said: “There are serious shortcomings with POP now.” 

She said a well-trained and equipped POP unit was needed to deal with the strikes and protests we were seeing, including on the national and urban roads. 

“Internationally, there are guidelines about POP and I thought that post-Marikana, what was supposed to take place was to incorporate this type of best-practice policing. I think that the minister of police needs to explain what has been done about it, and about providing proper equipment for this unit,” said de Haas. 

In a statement sent via Reneilwe Serero, a spokesperson for Minister of Police Bheki Cele, the police did not comment about Judge Ntshangase’s report. 

In response to the number of protests, he said Section 12 of the Regulation of Gatherings Act had been amended, meaning more and more people were allowed to protest without making an application. 

“In the event of a protest, visible policing is first respondent. Metro police in some instances are also first respondents and can also attend as they are trained in public order policing. When POPs arrive, they follow the drill of what to do and when, negotiating with protesters".

Sunday Tribune