Friday, August 21, 2015

Analysis: Marikana and Roodepoort reflect South Africa’s policing crisis

No Fear No Favour No politics in the SAPS please........


It has been another turbulent news week in South Africa. Days after the anniversary of the Marikana massacre, Roodepoort Primary School became the site of the latest questionable police action. It seems as if a lethal cocktail of political interference, bad communication, desperation, poverty and race have resulted in the Roodepoort Primary conflict. Of course, the real losers, on every level, are the schoolchildren – but why should we worry about them? Students have been subject to so much abuse in South Africa in recent years. Now they watch as parents, teachers and authorities battle it out. The old adage “children learn by example” seems, well, unimportant when these battles are being waged. But Roodepoort does show us that Marikana has taught us nothing. By RUSSELL POLLITT.

Gauteng Premier David Makhura closed Roodepoort Primary School after a feud erupted over the appointment of a new principal last Friday. Parents or students did not like the newly appointed principal. There are two views on this: first, that the majority coloured parent body are racist and do not want a black head; two, that the process that appointed the African principal was flawed. The authorities say that there was nothing wrong with the process and that this whole debacle is simply about race. The parents, on the other hand, claim that race is a scapegoat. They hold that there were people, in the school community, who could have been appointed and that there was no need to place an outsider in this position. They argue that people who work at the school, understand the local community and context and have a long involvement with the school would have been suitable and competent enough to head it up. They also claim that standards have dropped and that finances have been mismanaged under the new leadership.
The Gauteng education department intervened and said it was in the best interests of the pupils (this is one take on the “best interests” of students) for the school to be closed and for them to be sent to other schools so their education was not “disrupted” any further. The pupils are also, apparently, far behind in their school curriculum. Roodepoort, it seems, is just another statistic and a sad indictment of the state of education in the country. To defuse the situation, the department organised buses to transport students to other schools in Soweto. Angry parents, it’s reported, tried to prevent the students from boarding the buses. They wanted their school reopened or their children to be sent to other schools that were closer. Some parents said they were worried about the safety of their children. The protesting group allegedly threw stones at the buses. The police responded by firing teargas and rubber bullets, allegedly injuring at least five people. A community member told Eyewitness News two of the injured were children.
While there are many important elements to this story what seems crucial is the way the police reacted. Just days after the third anniversary of the Marikana massacre, one cannot but help ask if our civil liberties are any safer in the hands of the police today.
South African law and the Constitution protect our rights to physical integrity (section 12) and also our right to assemble and demonstrate in a peaceful manner (section 17). The authorities claim they had no choice but to use teargas and rubber bullets after the protesters allegedly threw stones at the buses. The law says the police should use discretion when using force to control crowds.
In particular, Standing Order 262 (issued by the South African Police Service) on “Crowd management during gatherings and demonstrations,” deals with how the police should carry out their duties in this regard. Standing Order 262 specifically mentions rubber bullets (11. Execution 4c p9). It says these are “prohibited or restricted during crowd management operations” and may only be used to “disperse a crowd in extreme circumstances, if less forceful methods prove to be ineffective - restricted”. Do we seriously believe that a group of angry parents allegedly armed with stones, outside a school (where there are children present) constitutes “extreme circumstances” and so warrants the use of teargas and rubber bullets?
The Farlam commission of inquiry into Marikana dealt with Standing Order 262 in particular. The commission said that it was inadequate, adding: “Given the large number of gatherings and demonstrations which actually or potentially involve violence, it is a matter of great urgency that Standing Order 262 be revised to address explicitly such gatherings and demonstrations.” (Farlam report 1036). It became clear at the commission that 262 needs to be clarified, amended and reviewed. The Farlam report, in its recommendations, says just that: “Revise and amend Standing Order 262 and all other prescripts relevant to public order policing (8a p549).” Standing Order 262 does not have the clarity that is necessary to deal with crowds that are armed and potentially or actually violent.
The situation at Marikana was different to Roodepoort Primary and is not comparable. Yet, even a cursory reading of Standing Order 262 seems to suggest that it could have guided police action at the school. Standing Order 262 states that “minimum force must be used to accomplish the goal and therefore the success of the actions will be measured by the results of the operation in terms of cost, damage to property, injuries to people and loss of life”. It adds: “The degree of force must be proportional to the seriousness of the situation and the threat posed … it must be reasonable in the circumstances … minimum force must be used to accomplish the goal.”
It seems the police either did not know the contents of Standing Order 262 – because of bad training – or chose to ignore it or simply don’t know the difference between a stone and an AK47. One of the first reasonable things to do in such a situation, surely, is attempt to negotiate with the crowd. In South Africa the police don’t seem to talk to people in such situations, they draw guns and shoot like John Wayne in your favourite Western. We don’t seem to have skilled police negotiators either.
Three years after Marikana and two months after the Farlam Report was released nothing has been done about how the South African Police Service (SAPS) handles crowd management. In a country where levels of violence are high, in which crowds regularly gather in protest (and protests are becoming more and more violent – note some of the so-called “service delivery” protests), in which people are angry because of desperate inequalities, surely this should be a priority for police management and the government? It is unacceptable to loot and burn trains, for example, to get your point across, but desperate people often resort to desperate means. However, it is equally unacceptable for those in public service not to ensure they have given their staff the necessary resources to handle and defuse such situations with integrity.
Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi has now handed the school over to a team of mediators including members of the South African Council of Churches, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the Public Protector’s Office. Lesufi, to his credit, has said they have handed the matter over to the mediation team and his department has pulled out so that the team can work freely and find a resolution to the crisis. If only the SAPS would do the same: find a resolution to the policing crisis the country faces.
The events at Marikana and Roodepoort Primary will play out again in South Africa in different places. It is blatantly clear that our police do not have the training and/or skill to handle tricky situations. A ‘shoot to kill’ mentality, cadre deployment, political infighting, bad management and a could-not-care-less attitude endanger every person in the country. Many good policemen and women simply do not have the training they need to face complex situations – such as angry crowds.
In Marikana 34 people died when police opened fire; at Roodepoort Primary five people were injured. It’s a sad state of affairs that can be rectified but it won’t be. The government’s lack of response to Marikana and the Farlam commission simply affirm this. The common good is not the common concern. The real question is: Who will be next? DM
Photo: EFF members show their support for parents at the troubled Roodepoort Primary School. Picture: Christopher Moagi/Daily Sun.








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