DURBAN - SECURITY and crime experts have warned that serious steps need to be taken to capacitate the police’s crime intelligence and public order policing units to avoid a re-occurrence of the scenes of anarchy, violence and looting that were witnessed in July this year in KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng.
During the SA Human Rights Commission hearing earlier this month on the July unrest, KZN provincial police commissioner Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi admitted that there had been shortcomings on the part of the police.
Other witnesses before the commission had testified that police were largely absent during the week of unrest.
The unrest was initially sparked after the arrest of former president Jacob Zuma and there has been recent talk from his supporters that the violence could reoccur if he is forced back to prison.
Mary de Haas, KZN violence monitor said something needed to be done to capacitate and fix the issues with the police’s crime intelligence resources.
“However, even without intelligence in July, it should have been obvious from soon after Zuma’s arrest that soldiers should have been deployed to guard roads and keep traffic flowing and to guard infrastructure. This request has to be made via the minister of police to the president who is the one who has authority to deploy soldiers to back police up. It is obvious that the Minister should have done this soon after Zuma’s arrest, even without intelligence,” she said.
Given that the July violence was very well-orchestrated, De Haas said that if the country’s intelligence agencies were doing their jobs properly, they would have picked it up, and if detectives were doing their jobs, they would have found those who had orchestrated the unrest.
“There was a lot of stuff on social media, for starters, that they could have followed up, and then gone through the phones used and calls made. The problem is that many people are using unregistered sim cards, which is illegal, but police are doing nothing about that.
“The problem is that the police have been heavily politicised, including by the current minister, even along factional lines,” she said.
De Haas said it was alleged that at one station in Durban dozens of police did not act during the unrest because they were “Zuma sympathisers, and even allegedly intimidated their colleagues trying to do their jobs”.
De Haas added that proper training and management of the police’s Public Order Policing Unit was long overdue.
“The issue of training of Public Order Policing Unit officers is an urgent one, given its bad handling of protests.”
De Haas warned that the violence and looting was carefully planned and Zuma’s imprisonment was used as a pretext for the unrest, and could be used again.
“How is it possible to loot identifiable equipment like dentists use (eg in Inanda) and the police not to know how it is disposed of. Even without the same orchestration, people who have made money out of looting could conceivably try it again on a smaller scale. The only thing one can say for sure is that those behind it have not been identified so they could conceivably organise something, even on a smaller scale, again,” she said.
De Haas added that to avoid further violence and looting, proper training and management of police and rapid communications systems to deploy police and the army was needed.
“Steps should have been taken on the day after Zuma’s arrest, when road blocks started, to get the army on standby, and police also on standby and equipment – crucial water canons, for instance – ready. Also, something has to be done about police discipline. It is probable that a significant number of police in this province did not act as they are Zuma sympathisers, yet police take an oath to defend the nation, not a party or faction of a party,” she said.
Organised and financial crime investigator Chad Thomas agreed that the crime intelligence division of the police needed to be capacitated and given the necessary resources to allow them to manage intelligence assets on the ground without interference from other divisions.
“Most importantly, the crime intelligence division should be permitted to fulfil its mandate of intelligence collection and dissemination without interference from other divisions and not be drawn into factional infighting within SAPS,” he said.
Thomas said that criminal elements would use any excuse to loot and plunder and we needed to be weary of certain people using the ongoing Zuma saga as a means to an end for their own nefarious agenda.
“SAPS Crime intelligence need to ensure that actionable intelligence is collected and that anyone planning to use this situation as a means to commit any criminal act, is identified, apprehended, and prosecuted.
“Crime intelligence needs to provide the necessary information to their colleagues in SAPS and to the CATS component of the Hawks, who in turn need to act on this intelligence immediately. Failure to act immediately and decisively could lead to scenes of anarchy witnessed earlier this year,” Thomas said.