New police reform efforts cannot be allowed to fail
The painstaking but vital process of reforming the SA Police Service in line with the recommendations of the Farlam Commission of Inquiry into the Marikana massacre is about to begin.
Police Minister Nathi Nhleko announced at the weekend that a panel of local and foreign policing and legal experts had been assembled to review the police's crowd control operations and assess international best practice in using non-lethal means to deal with unruly crowds.
It is to be hoped that the panel, whose chairman has yet to be appointed, concludes its work expeditiously - it's already been six months since Judge Ian Farlam delivered his report and there's unlikely to be a let-up in service-delivery and other protests until the economy improves.
The spectacle of policemen armed with automatic rifles firing at strikers brandishing homemade weapons can never be repeated.
There are better ways of dealing with protesters, no matter how violent or menacing. Sharper tactical awareness, effective strategies to disarm and isolate protesters, improved command and control and the use of overwhelming numbers of well-trained and properly equipped officers are what's required.
Unruly protesters who break the law and refuse orders to disperse must be dealt with firmly, rapidly and without bloodshed. They must be disarmed, rounded up, arrested and prosecuted - without exception.
It should be blindingly obvious to every officer that lethal force can be employed only as a last resort, when lives are threatened.
''Demilitarising'' the police's rank structure would be a good start, but a deeper attitude shift on the part of officers - and of politicians who mouth-off in public with variations on the ''shoot-to-kill'' theme - is urgently required.
Proper training, sound intelligence, an adequately resourced detective service and, critically, a good relationship between police officers and the community, are the most effective weapons of a professional police service.