Mayors, do your work – Nathi Mthethwa

2014-01-31 16:12

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Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa has criticised political leaders who neglect their duties of communicating with their constituencies in communities where violent protests have erupted, and he appealed to mayors and councillors to address the demands made by residents.

Mthethwa was speaking at the SAPS Public Order Policing Conference in Pretoria today, where more than 100 police commanders of public order policing units met to discuss how they can respond better to violent protests.

Although Mthethwa acknowledged that some of the problems that led to the deaths of nine protesters in recent weeks were caused by the failure of command and control within the police, he warned that unless leaders address their communities, South Africa was sitting on a “ticking time bomb” and violent protests could escalate even further.

Three protesters died this week in Limpopo.

“You have protests, which start peacefully, and then turn violent because leaders, including mayors, are not there. Police always come at the tail end of the protests when they have turned violent. People fight and communities expect certain leaders to address them.

“Police are brought in to protect lives, property and keep the peace. But those who are given the responsibility to lead communities must be able to be in touch with communities,” said Mthethwa.

He reiterated the call he made last week that citizens should not be hoodwinked by unscrupulous “criminal” elements into turning peaceful protests violent.

Mthethwa also denied that police were “brutal”, and said that in some cases police officers lost their lives trying to defend themselves.

Mthethwa and Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega expressed shock at the level of violence during protests in Relela, Venda and Tzaneen in Limpopo this week, where protesters set alight four houses, two police vehicles were damaged and three police officers were injured.

“This perception that police are brutal must be fought because it is unfounded. In some situations you can see that if police officers did not move and protect themselves, they were going to be killed. Violence must be denounced and unless communities exercise their right to protest, we are heading towards a slippery slope as a country. Indeed, in the process, some people are hurt by the police, but that is because of the violent nature of the protests,” he said.

He said some of the protests had nothing to do with service delivery. “How do you investigate witchcraft? What can police do when communities demand that we do something about it? You can’t solve witchcraft and some political squabbles through the police.”

The meeting took place a day after violent protests erupted in Bronkhorstspruit, east of Pretoria, where a satellite police station and a municipal building were set alight yesterday.

Mthethwa appealed to organisers of protests to adhere to the law by first applying for permission to protest and ensuring that none of the protesters carried dangerous weapons during marches.

“You have people who come to protests carrying spears. Before we know it, some of you [media] won’t be able to report on it [protests] because you will be targeted,” said Mthethwa.

Phiyega said thorough research had gone into amendments for common national standards for public order police in 2011, and she praised this as the only way police could intervene in protests.

DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko held a press briefing earlier in the day in which she expressed shock at the deaths of three more protesters in Limpopo this week, allegedly at the hands of the police.

Mazibuko said research by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate had found that allegations of police brutality related to crowd control increased from five in 2006, 16 in 2007 and 25 in 2008, to 59 cases in 2009.

“Between 2009 and 2011, the number of allegations of police brutality increased to a total of 134 in comparison with the previous seven years, which totalled 70 cases, representing a 91% increase,” she said.

Mazibuko said the deaths of protesters at the hands of police should not be viewed in isolation, and said that police brutality was a “consequence of a government, led by a weak president, which has failed to take the steps needed to ensure a professional, effective and non-violent police service”.

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