Cops lose control

2014-02-02 10:00

Thin blue line between order and chaos in SA becomes ever fainter

Two senior, experienced officers questioned before separate commissions of inquiry have painted a damning picture of South Africa’s police officers as poorly trained, trigger-happy and losing their grip in the communities they’re meant to protect.

As criticism mounts over officers’ heavy-handed tactics in dealing with protests in particular, a letter came to light at the Marikana Commission of Inquiry this week alleging that police officers don’t know what they are doing during protests.

North West police Air Wing Commander Salmon Vermaak wrote the letter to North West Police Commissioner Zukiswa Mbombo in ­December 2012.

Vermaak spent 15 years in Public Order Policing before he was transferred to the North West Air Wing.

In his letter, written four months after the massacre and presented at the commission this week, he wrote that his office would supply air support during the protests.

Vermaak makes reference to his extensive training in handling ­unrest situations.

“During this period [1990-2005], the unit in Klerksdorp handled incidents professionally and with less loss of lives even if different nationalities were engaged in big unrest in the mine hostels.

“In my 15 years in Public Order Policing, there were only two protesters killed by No.?5 shotgun rounds,” he writes in the memo.

He identified the following shortcomings among officers in Marikana at the time of the massacre:

»?Commanding officers didn’t have experience with unrest scenes;

»?Commanders don’t know the legislation under which they can act; and

»?Marikana is a very good example of a time when senior management was warned before specific actions were taken, but they did not pay attention.

On the stand on Thursday, Mbombo did not respond to any of the allegations made by Vermaak in his report.

She continuously said she either did not know or was not sure why Vermaak would make such remarks in the report.

Meanwhile, in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, a damning report filed with the Khayelitsha commission of ­inquiry into policing suggests officers there are losing control.

Major General Chris de Kock, who headed crime research and statistics for the police service for many years, makes this startling statement in an August 2012 report on crime statistics in Khayelitsha.

De Kock says that significant ­increases in robbery and aggravated robbery in Khayelitsha were of “grave concern”.

In the report, a copy of which City Press has seen, De Kock questions if the trend could mean that the ­police have lost control of the ­situation.

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