Police commissioner fails to recall Phoenix death toll at Human Rights Commission hearing

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Police Commissioner Khehla Sithole virtually appeared before the SA Human Rights Commission.
Police Commissioner Khehla Sithole virtually appeared before the SA Human Rights Commission.
  • National police commissioner Khehla Sitole could not recall the number of people who died in Phoenix during the July unrest.
  • He required assistance off screen while giving testimony to the SA Human Rights Commission virtually.
  • He could also not recall the breakdown of the death of black and Indian people in Phoenix.

National police commissioner Khehla Sitole was clueless during his testimony at the SA Human Rights Commission hearing into the July unrest on Tuesday when he could not recall the number of people who died in Phoenix.

Sitole, who was evasive and, at times, combative about dates when he received intelligence reports, could not recall the widely reported 36 deaths in the suburb.

He sat back in his chair, almost defeated, as he struggled to recall the number and was repeatedly quizzed by evidence leader, advocate Smanga Sethene.

"At the moment, I cannot give you [the number]," he initially said.

Off screen, Sitole clearly looked at the number. Then he confirmed it. But by then, Sethene called him out for not knowing the highest concentration of deaths in the July unrest.

"And you are looking past the screen. Someone is giving you evidence," Sethene charged.

Sitole could also not recall the race breakdown of the deaths - 33 black people and three Indian people.

"I need to look at the report – I did not memorise the number," he said.

Earlier in his testimony, Sitole testified about the fact that no intelligence was received because Crime Intelligence was under-resourced.

However, Sethene did not accept this and asked the commissioner, why, since his appointment in November 2017, he had not done more to resource Crime Intelligence.

Sethene highlighted that the police commissioner was the accounting officer of the police's R100-billion budget and that he should have done more to capacitate Crime Intelligence.

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Sitole conceded that he was the accounting officer of the police.

He also conceded that he did not have a National Diploma in Policing - a qualification that most of his subordinates possess.

"A person charged with responsibility to manage those billions has to have requisite qualifications," said Sethene, to which Sitole responded: "I agree."

Sithole yet to visit Phoenix

The commissioner admitted that since the unrest, he had not visited Phoenix.

Sethene pressed him.

"I have been to KwaZulu-Natal. I have been to a place next to Phoenix," he said.

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In addition, he testified that he was not aware of a community barricade, which has been implicated in racist attacks during the unrest, adding that there was no investigation into the police station from a national level.

"There is not yet disciplinary hearings from a national perspective. From the provinces, there are operationally orientated disciplinary processes that relate to the compliance of members. Currently, there isn't a disciplinary process running from national."

Crime Intelligence reports

Sitole said that while he received a Crime Intelligence report prior to the unrest, it did not specify the modus operandi of the unrest itself and was therefore unhelpful for police preparations.

"Crime Intelligence did not have capacity at the time to rise up to the situational demand of the unrest at the time, also from a resource point of view. From a resourcing perspective, they could not be equal to the task. The demand for resourcing remained increasing."

Sitole added that during the unrest, a Crime Intelligence report was provided to Police Minister Bheki Cele.

"Firstly I told the minister that the modus operandi was intending to spread. It was intended to destabilise the whole country and [the] intention [was] to spread to all the provinces. The nature of the modus operandi...affected arrests. I would bring that to the attention of the minister.

"I cannot give you a specific time when I received this report, but it is done as the situation arises. Some are done formally in writing if there is intelligence which arises from a tactical perspective and intelligence that is critical."

The commission continues.

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