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Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry

29 January 2014

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On day seven of the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry, we are with heavy hearts. Testimonies shared over the past week have been harrowing, including a visit to the Nkanini informal settlement ‘field of death’, a Cape Town crime hotspot where mob justice killings take place – and which doubles as a children’s soccer pitch during the day. Residents talk of gangsterism, daytime robberies, senseless rape and violence, all within earshot of the Khayelitsha police.

The township of Khayelitsha is one of the largest informal settlements in South Africa and is situated about 30 kilometres outside of the City Bowl. Khayelitsha, including many of the other townships in the country, are still plagued with poor basic infrastructure including adequate sanitation and access to clean water. Due to the high unemployment rate, poverty is rampant in these areas. This makes all townships breeding grounds for criminal activity.

An investigation compiled by Major General CP de Kock in 2012, into the levels of crime in Khayelitsha revealed that much of the crime in the area are dominantly social contact crime… which is “less policeable in terms of the conventional policing methods/procedures…” The inability of the police to curb, prevent and investigate crime in the area has angered residents to such an extent that vigilantism seemed to be their only solution.

Due to the fact that the police are an extension of the political economy and the responsibility of the State, ineffective policing is a constitutional matter. People have the right to a safe environment and to live in an environment free of intimidation. Sadly, in Khayelitsha, the residents do not have this privilege. Not only is ineffective policing a huge problem, but so is police corruption.

if i could… host organisation, the Social Justice Coalition (SJC), coupled with other advocacy groups, has initiated an investigation into policing in Khayelitsha. Although the investigation was not welcomed by the South African Police Services (SAPS), the Constitutional Court of South Africa has approved of the Inquiry in a verdict made in the latter part of 2012.

The SJC is at the forefront of this heated debate – the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry. The Commission’s primary purpose is to investigate allegations of inefficiency of the SAPS operating in Khayelitsha, investigate a breakdown in relationships between the Khayelitsha community and members of the SAPS and make recommendations on how to improve policing in the area.

In November 2011, several organisations led by SJC – including Equal Education, Free Gender, Ndifuna Ukwazi, Treatment Action Campaign, Triangle Project and the Women’s Legal Centre – lodged a complaint against the Khayelitsha police and criminal justice system stating that “ineffective policing in the township gave rise to vigilante groups taking matters into their own hands and killing suspected criminals.” (Adam Armstrong, Groundup)

The organisations campaigned for Western Cape Premier Helen Zille to establish a commission of inquiry, and submitted a dossier compiled over two years, stating the failures of police and the criminal justice system in Khayelitsha, including:

  • The lack of coordination between police and prosecuting authorities, resulting in lost dockets and cases being struck off court rolls.
  • Investigating officers routinely failing to ensure that witnesses were present at trials, causing lengthy postponements.
  • Witnesses often being intimidated because they were not protected from criminals.
  • Insufficient visible policing in Khayelitsha.

Despite Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa’s repeat opposition and delays to the Commission, up to the national level, Premier Zille successfully established the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry on 24 August 2012, to investigate the alleged police inefficiency.

In the Constitutional Court’s dismissal of Mthethwa, Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke stated, “… the premier was obliged to take reasonable steps to shield the residents of Khayelitsha from an unrelenting invasion of their fundamental rights as a result of the alleged police inefficiency,” as per Section 206(5) of the Constitution.

Zille appointed former Constitutional Court Judge, Justice Kate O’Regan, and former NPA Head, Advocate Vusumzi Patrick Pikoli, as Commissioners. Commissioner Justice O’Regan, recognised as one of the finest legal minds in the country, says, “Both advocate Vusi Pikoli and I have agreed to participate in the Commission because we believe that all South Africans have a right to a secure and safe environment and that being free from crime is an important constitutional right.”

Khayelitsha+township+xgold+2012, © Mike Hutchings/Reuters

Residents between shacks in Cape Town’s crime-ridden Khayelitsha township. Over 78 people died at the hands of vigilantes in the township between April 2011 and April 2012 as angry residents, tired of poor policing, take the law into their own hands. © Mike Hutchings/Reuters

Meanwhile, the Khayelitsha Development Forum (KDF), a community organisation with close ties to the ANC, claims the problems around policing in Khayelitsha are only developmental in nature.

KDF Chairperson Ndithini Thido spoke to the press in November 2013, “As KDF, we are saying, there is no need for the commission and that is our formal position. We are saying that Khayelitsha must be well lit. Khayelitsha must have access to roads between shacks, so that the police can have access to these houses. So if these police are called to [make a] raid or for an emergency, then they must have access to those places. If they fail, then they can be called inefficient or ineffective.”

Phumeza Mlungwana, General Secretary of Social Justice Coalition, the lead organisation in the Commission of Inquiry and also involved in a successful 2013 campaign for the repair of streetlights in Khayelitsha, was disappointed by the KDF’s position.

KDF, established in 1994, is also the dominant organisation for the Khayelitsha policing forums in each of the area’s three police stations.

On 22 January 2014, the Commissioners visited various police stations in the surrounding area; such as Nkanini informal settlements, Harare Park and Ilitha Park. SJC community support officer Welcome Makele told the Commission in Harare Park, “This road is the meeting point for the school gangsters when they fight at this junction. The community don’t know if the CCTV camera is working, because they expect the police will come when the gang violence starts, but they don’t.”

Findings were discussed, including the July 2012 police task team report which was critical of the [KDF] policing forums, stating the “poor relationship between the management” of the police and the forum “is not conducive for effective cooperation and partnership policing.” In another instance, it was reported that police did not even attend a safety seminar organised on 7 July 2012.

The report continues, “in most of these cases, no facial identity profiles are compiled even where the complainants had described the suspects, witness statements are not always taken, and the complainants/witnesses are not given the opportunity of viewing the photo albums of criminals available at cop stations to identify suspects.”

The teams concluded the constitutional structures that should be adhered to, to enhance proper police services, are not functioning effectively in Khayelitsha.

© WBUR

© WBUR

The residents, and rising vigilantism statistics, speak for themselves. There were 78 vigilante killings between April 2011 and April 2012, according to police crime figures.

Many Khayelitsha residents have lost faith in the SAPS and the criminal justice system operating in their area, and over the past two years have increasingly resorted to taking the law into their own hands, condemning suspected criminals to death by stoning or necklacing (setting a tire alight around the person’s neck).

This vigilantism unfortunately “further fuels the cycle of violence and crime, and exposes people, including children, to terrible scenes of brutality,” says SJC’s Joel Bregman.

SJC and partnering organisations see a casual link between the failures of the criminal justice system in Khayelitsha and the rise of kangaroo courts in the area, hence the initial dossier calling for the Commission, submitted to Premier Zille over two years ago.

Upon receiving the dossier, Zille said, “Many people do feel vulnerable to crime, they don’t feel safe in their homes and neighbourhoods and they don’t trust the police and broader criminal justice system to address crime effectively.”

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