Mbeki criticises failure to demilitarise the police

31 July 2020 - 22:11
Former president Thabo Mbeki.
Image: SUNDAY TIMES Former president Thabo Mbeki.

Former president Thabo Mbeki has criticised the failure to implement a National Development Plan recommendation to demilitarise the police, saying this signified the abandonment of ANC values and principles.

Writing in his foundation's monthly newsletter, Mbeki outlined the reasons the ANC, in its 1992 Ready to Govern document, proposed a move from an apartheid state police force to a non-militarised police service.

“Indeed after 1994 we constituted a SA Police Service (SAPS), with all the officers having civilian, non-military ranks, starting with the officer-in-charge of the service, the national commissioner, working as part of a ministry and department of safety and security,” he said.

Mbeki noted that much of this changed in 2010 when the then ANC administration restored the military ranks of the police and changed the ministry and department of safety and security to the present ministry and department of police.

“All this showed that the then ANC leadership either did not understand the reasoning within the movement which had resulted in the change from the SAP to the SAPS, or viewed that reasoning with contempt, and therefore abruptly repositioned the police as an instrument of repression, led by generals, like the apartheid SAP,” said Mbeki, who resigned as president in September 2008 at the request of the ANC.

He said the police involvement in the massacre of mineworkers at Marikana in 2012 could not be separated from the 2010 remilitarisation of the police.

Recognising the importance of this matter, the National Development Plan made a specific recommendation to “demilitarise the police”, he said.

“It says: 'The decision to demilitarise the police force, moving away from its history of brutality, was a goal of transformation after 1994. The remilitarisation of the police in recent years has not garnered greater community respect for police officers, nor has it secured higher conviction rates. Certainly, a paramilitary police force does not augur well for a modern democracy and a capable developmental state. The commission believes that the police should be demilitarised'.”

Nothing has been done to implement this important recommendation, wrote Mbeki.

He said the 2010 radical departure from the policies on policing contained in the Ready to Govern document exemplified exactly the abandonment of ANC values and principles which the 54th ANC National Conference condemned.

“Whereas these values and principles in Ready to Govern were the outcome of an inclusive and vigorous discussion within the ANC and the broad democratic movement, the 2010 regression was an imposition by the ANC leadership in government, with no inclusive and systematic discussion by the ANC as a whole,” he said.

The ANC adopted the Ready to Govern document in 1992 which contained many of the basic policy guidelines which informed government programmes which were implemented from 1994.

The document proposed a new approach to policing, saying:

  • Policing shall be based on community support and participation;

  • Policing priorities shall be determined in consultation with the communities they serve; and

  • Policing shall be structured as a non-militarised service.