OPINIONISTA

Cees de Rover: Marikana: The Axe Forgets, but the Tree Remembers

The findings of the Marikana Commission of Inquiry have been very clear. Yet six years after Marikana, the SAPS is yet to change.

The incidents that occurred at Marikana in August 2012, the Commission of Inquiry that followed and, subsequently, the panel of experts, have laid bare a harsh truth. Democracy, the rule of law, justice and respect for basic human rights all suffer greatly when a civil police force fails to adhere to its basic roles and responsibilities in a manner able to withstand judicial and public scrutiny. That mantra has now been on “repeat” for more than six years, without ever coming close to the delivery of the truth, restoration and justice we were all promised.

I believe the panel of experts has been thorough and comprehensive in the completion of the work entrusted to it. That work finished in February of this year and a report of the panel’s work now rests with the Minister, as do the myriad of recommendations, for reform of SAPS, contained therein. Nine months of silence later, I must confess that my interest in the process is waning at probably the same rate that my disappointment with it is growing. I can only imagine what all those affected by Marikana must be thinking.

With growing frustration, I have sat on the panel of experts the last two years since April 2016. With mounting incredulity, I have witnessed the blatant unwillingness of the SAPS to heed any of the recommendations of the commission of inquiry, or to acknowledge their merit. This includes attempts to put up for discussion the veracity and validity of the findings of the Commission.

It seems very true that to identify a wrong and to rectify that wrong are two very different things indeed in South Africa. Reading media reports about government corruption, collusion with big business and State Capture, that last observation is certainly not exclusive to the SAPS. However, it is so far more damning because in any country the police are the public face of the nation, the strong arm of the law if you will.

Their actions and omissions are there for anyone to see who bothers to look. And this directly impacts on legitimacy, credibility, image and reputation of a police organisation concerned. Cosmetic ideas, like calling it a service instead of a force, or spending great amounts of time and money discussing the abolition of military ranks are but mere distractions of far deeper lying root causes of the dysfunctionality we observe on a daily basis. The R5 issue, seen in that light, is but another symptom in the worrying overall condition of the patient concerned.

Other concerning symptoms, I have witnessed over the last five and half years of my personal involvement, are those of obfuscation, delusion and denial. SAPS appear to have a, unwarranted, belief in their own professionalism and abilities and link the two with an attitude where they profess there to be no need for change, as they are already doing “all those things” or claim that they are indeed already far beyond them.

At other times, the waters get muddied to an extent that discussions bog down and no progress is made at all. Problem is that rarely are all those claims made by SAPS then substantiated or made available for external scrutiny, as they in fact should be in a democratic society.

Problems don’t get solved by ignoring or denying them, nor do they benefit from those, in possession of all the facts, persistently setting about distorting these facts to suit a preferred narrative. Police organisations that claim that there is nothing left to learn, that all is well and under control, ignore the fact that the world around them is evolving and that demands and expectations of police performance evolve and change with that. Change, and the willingness to learn, including from your own mistakes, impacts on organisational success and relevance in society. It also affects the ability to accomplish their mission and to achieve goals and objectives. And of course, that has a direct impact on credibility, image and reputation of the organisation.

It is important to remind ourselves that we are after all talking about a law enforcement organisation, meant to protect all people against illegal acts and to serve the community. An organisation meant to be responsive to, representative of and accountable to the community it is serving.

The findings of the Marikana Commission of Inquiry have been very clear. The role and terms of reference for the panel of experts were a logical continuation of the countless hours spent by the Commission. Where things got murky and incomprehensible, was when at the time of the formation of the panel of experts, the then Minister for Police also created what is called a Transformation Task Team. Chaired by a priest and stacked with senior SAPS officials, it is this transformation task team that is inter alia responsible for the actual implementation of the recommendations of the panel of experts. Can you still follow?

Recommendations for a fundamental overhaul of SAPS organisation and management practices in general, and public order policing practices in particular are handed to a team that has a majority of SAPS senior management as members — who stand to be affected by the changes proposed- and is chaired by someone whose credentials have nothing to do with law enforcement.

The logic of this construct has always eluded me. The fact that the panel and the transformation task team never had joint meetings, or any meetings for that matter, did not help. The successful implementation of the panel’s recommendations requires that process to be led by people with solid and pertinent professional knowledge and experience, of unimpeachable integrity, and with an ability to successfully co-operate with SAPS to see this process through to its conclusion.

I do not believe that the transformation task team, in its present composition, meets those criteria. Perhaps the silence of the last nine months is indicative of the fact that the Minister for Police is well aware of this dilemma.

I guess the French comedian Pierre Dac was right when he said in 1972: “C'est quand on a raison qu'il est difficile de prouver qu'on n'a pas tor – It is when one is right that it is difficult to prove that one is not wrong.DM

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