As the year draws to a close Christmas proclaims peace on earth, but there ca be no true peace without justice. All societies, regardless of religious beliefs, recognise this truth, and all have rules for dealing with violence. Modern states have criminal justice systems – police, courts, prisons–  because they recognise the dangers of citizens taking the law into their own hands. It should thus be a matter of great public concern that the national commissioner is, in effect, encouraging vigilantism by police members, and that this message receives support from many, including in government. This tactic diverts attention from the fact that if the police were doing their jobs properly levels of violent crime would not be so high – and that many more people are dying at the hands of the police than when murder rates were considerably higher. To make matters worse, police
members routinely abuse people, including through the notorious ‘tubing’ (near suffocation) method – yet management is silent. There is an increasing lack of accountability on the part of police management, and government general, which bodes ill for democracy.

The well publicised utterances of the national police commissioner about the Anni Dewani murder also indicate either a lack of understanding, or contempt for criminal justice processes. Dewani’s husband is already branded a criminal despite not having appeared in a court of law. Ironically, police members are the first to hide behind the sub judice rule – as in their refusal to explain why members took no action to stop a group of armed, chanting, people from killing foreigners in a nearby building in central Durban.
Unlike the swift justice in the Dewani case, the xenophobia matter is still, almost two years later, dragging on. At least people have been charged, which does not, in the majority of cases (even murder) happen.  Victims who are poor, or out of public sight, do not generally merit the resources and expertise accorded to high profile cases. Housebreaking, and with it the threat to personal safety, is rife but the outlook for any justice being done is even gloomier (and such criminals often go on to even more serious crimes).
Leads are often not followed up, as in the handling of two consecutive cases of the theft of valuable transformers from a farm near Umhlali, in what were clearly well organised operations. When the farmer concerned approached
the local station commissioner, after the first theft, to express dissatisfaction with the police’s disinterest, he was treated with rudeness. The way in which some stations are being run beggars belief. Two residents of the Mayville policing area reported recently that when there was a break in at their homes (one very close to the station) they were told that there was only one operational van – for an area that extends from Westrdige/Manor Gardens to
near Overport. Why are the other vans not operational?

It is bad enough when the police do not do their jobs properly (and many do strive to do so). It is even worse that people have to live in fear of being tortured or killed by them, as occurred during apartheid.  In Macibini near Sundumbili (Mandeni) police members have been kicking down doors in the middle of the night and assaulting people. One of those badly abused, including through tubing, is Mr Makhoba.  A retired police member, he managed to ascertain which unit was involved – and it was not even supposed to be operating in his area.

Allegations that police members take sides in taxi industry
disputes are common, as in the case of the Mbonambi family, who have a permit to run a local taxi service in the Sundumbi area. Starting in 2008 they were allegedly subject to threats to their lives, including from a man (Shabane) who was involved in a rival association (in which some local police appeared to have interests). However, early in 2009 it was two of the Mbonambi brothers –  Siyabonga and Sam – who were arrested by the
police, and were badly assaulted and tubed. They were charged with crimes, but charges were withdrawn.  Despite continuing threats to them being reported to the police the Mbonambi home in Dendethu was attacked on 25 March this year by five men, who were armed, including, allegedly, with an R5 rifle(a police or military issue). Siyabonga was badly injured and his brother and toddler nephew were killed. There were witnesses to the attack. Shabane and others were arrested and charged, but the charges appear to have been withdrawn. A member of the same unit which is investigating the matter (who is himself widely feared) has been seen moving around with Shabane. Does this inspire confidence that justice will be done? In August Sigyabonga was arrested by a Kranskop policeman who is alleged to be
close to one of those charged with the attack on the Mbonambi house, and
imprisoned in Kranskop. His family feared it was a pretext to kill him, so the
assistance of the station commissioner was sought. He was given bail and
charges were later withdrawn. In September, a group of police without any
identification kicked down the door the house he and his family were hiding in at Ntuzuma, Durban, and allegedly assaulted them and stole money (a frequent allegation when such raids occur). Siyabonga remains in hiding, especially as there are still (as at today) reports that hit men are looking for him.

Other taxi men too, are in hiding because they have taken a
stand against paying protection money to taxi warlords with whom, they claim, police members collude. In May, one of these men, Xaba, was gunned down in kwaDukuza, together with a local resident who was giving him a lift, by police members. Before he died, Xaba had put it in writing that he feared for his life from rival taxi operators and the police. Despite  glaring irregularities surrounding this killing, the ICD has not taken the case over, but is simply ‘monitoring’ its investigation by a member whose credentials for the job are questionable.  Nor has the Transport Department in Pietermaritzburg assisted taxi men standing up to illegal practices by other

As under apartheid, many people are being terrorised by
police who do not identify themselves, who have removed their name tags and/or obscured their faces. There are even reports of electricity being switched off so that their vehicles cannot be recognised in the dark. It seems that some of these police members are from units which report directly to the national commissioner in Pretoria.

To make matters worse, police management – provincial and
national    – as well  as the National Minister for Safety and Security, fail to respond to letters, even by way of acknowledgement. This is a new development since the change of government. Even approaches to the relevant parliamentary portfolio committee elicit no response.  The impression is that the human rights embodied in the Constitution – including as they relate to policing, to access to information, and to just administrative action – are held in scant regard by some members of the present government (and not only those concerned with policing).

The situation can only worsen in 2011 if the governing party
presses ahead with enacting the Protection of Information Bill without making fundamental changes to it, and imposing clamps on the media. The government appears obsessed with secrecy, so there is no room for complacency: It is absolutely essential that mobilisation in defence of our right to know continues, and expands, in the New Year.