Zille wins Khayelitsha policing inquiry case
The Constitutional Court handed Western Cape premier Helen Zille a victory on Tuesday in her bid to hold a commission of inquiry into policing in Khayelitsha, Cape Town.
In a unanimous judgment, the court refused Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa leave to appeal against a high court ruling dismissing his application for an interdict suspending the work of the inquiry pending a review to set its aside its appointment.
The minister argued that the commission -- headed by former national director of public prosecutions Vusi Pikoli and retired Constitutional Court judge Kate O'Regan -- was inconsistent with the Constitution and invalid.
But the Constitutional Court found that section 206 (5) of the Constitution gives a province the power to establish a commission of inquiry into policing.
In the judgment, Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke said the case raised an important issue that should be resolved speedily, and which only the highest court in the land could settle.
"The challenge to the premier's exercise of an original constitutional power has weighty political and institutional implications," he wrote.
Zille set up the inquiry in August last year to investigate alleged police inefficiency in Khayelitsha, after nine months of discussions with the national police ministry reached a dead end.
The ministry had argued that the step was premature and said a task team would investigate the community's complaints.
But Zille said neither she nor the complainants were informed what the police would do as a result of the investigation, and appointed the commission.
Within a week of the commission issuing subpoenas to the provincial police commissioner and three station commanders, Mthethwa approached the Western Cape High Court. His application for interim relief was dismissed in January and he then approached the Constitutional Court.
His arguments stated that the inquiry's terms of reference were vague and Zille was not entitled to appoint a commission of inquiry with coercive powers over the SA Police Service.
The Constitutional Court held that without coercive powers the commission would be unable to fulfil its mandate. It dismissed the argument that the terms of reference were too vague or broad, and held that the premier "was obliged to take reasonable steps to shield the residents of Khayelitsha from an unrelenting invasion of their fundamental rights as a result of the alleged police inefficiency".
Moseneke stressed that the rights and interests of Khayelitsha's quarter of a million residents "lie at the heart of this dispute".
Zille welcomed the ruling and said it meant the commission could get to work with the police's full co-operation.
She said the decision to appoint the commission was not taken lightly but prompted by residents' assertions that they had lost trust in the police.
"This request was prompted by the spate of vigilante killings in the area allegedly because people had lost faith in the ability of the police to bring criminals to justice."
Zille had been approached by the Women's Legal Centre, acting on behalf of various community groups, who complained that police had shown apathy and incompetence in dealing with crime, notably murder, assault, and rape.
The police ministry said on Tuesday it would respect the court ruling.