Marikana tragedy proved police in South Africa are not held to account

13 August 2017 - 00:00 By CEES DE ROVER

The logo of the Marikana commission of inquiry, emblazoned on flags and reports, was impressive; apparently symbolising peace and a new day above the words "truth, restoration and justice". Our wait has been five years. In those five years we have as yet seen little truth, no restoration and certainly no justice where the events at Marikana are concerned.
General Riah Phiyega, national police commissioner at the time of the Marikana massacre, was declared unfit for office after a government inquiry. However, that finding did not lead to her logical subsequent dismissal from office by President Jacob Zuma.
Instead, Zuma did nothing. She was permitted to serve out the term of her contract, on suspension, enjoying full pay and benefits.
After an internal investigation, the South African Police Service managed to absolve 87 of its own number from any wrongdoing at Marikana.
The SAPS has not provided any qualifying information on that internal investigation, nor any detail permitting independent evaluation of the veracity of its findings.This is an outrage and an insult to all the victims of Marikana, police officials included. It is also a disturbing confirmation of the almost total absence of accountability that is a critical weakness of the SAPS as an organisation.
One outcome of the Marikana commission was the establishment of a panel of experts tasked with converting the commission's recommendations into specific proposals for reform of the SAPS.
But, like the commission before it, the panel, of which I am a serving member, can only make recommendations to the responsible minister, who is not bound to accept or implement anything.
The power of the panel does not extend to seeing its recommendations converted into professional policing practice.
As an international policing expert with experience in more than 70 countries, I know that there are certain truths, valid everywhere, always: law enforcement organisations need to be led and managed by policing professionals of quality and skill, of high moral standing and integrity, who vigorously oppose all forms of corruption, who do not accept or seek political interference in policing and who are held accountable.
The Marikana commission found all those essential fundamentals lacking in the SAPS on those fateful days in August 2012. They are still lacking today, five years later.
Every day there are scores of examples bearing this out: instances of poor leadership, corruption, mismanagement, even of criminal conduct by police leaders.
Rarely does any of this, even in the very worst cases, result in legal and or disciplinary consequence for the persons involved.
A credible police organisation will ensure that clear and transparent consequences follow on conduct and performance that go against the laws, regulations and ethical principles governing the profession.
Such accountability is completely lacking in the SAPS.
There is no effective enforcement mechanism holding officials to account for those breaches of law, professionalism and integrity that are routine within the highest levels of government and policing in South Africa.
It is this simple fact that ultimately renders near useless the best efforts of any commission or panel.Commissions and panels such as those established around Marikana can be important tools of change, but they can also be a trap - providing breathing space for embattled governments to do nothing.
In the case of the SAPS, the verdict is clear. Four national police commissioners have managed to embarrass the government and the SAPS, in well-documented ways that, for an outsider, simply beggar beliefEven leaving aside ethics and professionalism, it is inescapable that three out of four compromised appointees were not policing experts, nor did they possess the qualifications or experience demanded of a police leader in any comparable country.
Such lack of skilled leadership has had a deeply negative effect on the SAPS on every level: organisation, performance, internal culture, public image and reputation.
In light of this history, to once again appoint a nonprofessional to the rank of commissioner would be a recklessly irresponsible act.
The people of South Africa deserve to have a national police force led by a consummate policing professional of unimpeachable integrity, selected through a transparent and competitive process.
The new leader must be up to transforming the SAPS into an organisation of impeccable professional standing, with officials who are held accountable.
The new leader must have the courage and capacity to take a broom to the staircase that is SAPS top management - and it needs to be swept from the top down.
The SAPS cannot be led by the inept and incompetent. This is an insult to the South African community and to the many fine SAPS officials who put their lives on the line to defend the people of this great country.
There must be no place in this organisation for people who, having sworn to uphold the law, break it with impunity. There must be no place for the corrupt. There must be no place for those who abuse power and authority.
Of course the South African government may well choose to look the other way. However, it can never again say that it did not know.
• De Rover is the executive director of Switzerland-based Equity International and has been a member of the Marikana panel of experts since April 2016..

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