By Lorraine Louw
The Commission of Inquiry into policing in Khayelitsha published its hearing plan yesterday, despite a call from the national minister of police to halt proceedings.
It said that during the first week of hearings, from 12 to 15 November, it would hear evidence from a range of different witnesses. “Some will be residents of Khayelitsha who will give evidence about life in Khayelitsha, and about their experiences of crime and policing in Khayelitsha.”
The commission would also call several expert witnesses. On 15 November, it hoped to hold an inspection at the Traffic Management Centre, where the closed circuit television cameras in Khayelitsha are monitored.
This comes despite an announcement by Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa on 31 October that he would approach the Western Cape High Court to halt the commission. The South African Police Service (SAPS) was not present or represented at the first sitting of the inquiry on 29 October.
It was set up by Premier Helen Zille after intense lobbying by civil society organisations, including the Women’s Legal Centre and the Social Justice Coalition, which believe that the vigilante killings that rocked Khayelitsha earlier this year were a result of failed policing. She announced the commission on 22 August, and it opened its offices in the township on 11 September.
At the time, Mthethwa asked Zille to suspend the inquiry, as he said the SAPS would like to establish its own investigation. He said police were not given sufficient opportunity to deal with the complaints. But when she announced its establishment, Zille said police officials were given ample opportunity to respond to the proposal but failed to do so, as Corruption Watch reported in September.
And police inefficiency is something very familiar to the residents of Khayelitsha, where allegations of police inefficiency and a breakdown in relations between the community and the police led to the commission. It is headed by retired Judge Kate O’Regan, who is on the Corruption Watch board.
The inquiry comes after a spate of vigilante killings in the township. The official figure for the year is 18, but the Social Justice Coalition’s Gavin Silber told Daily Maverick there was reason to believe the real number was higher, “well above 20”.
He attributed the mob justice to the fact that faith in the police in the community was at an all-time low. “Over the years, we have collected scores of testimonies to the effect that the policing and justice system is failing Khayelitsha on a number of levels,” Silber said. “When people report crimes they are often turned away or treated poorly. There are complaints about police not serving their duty to protect, but rather abusing their power.”
Meanwhile, Mthethwa has said: “The rationale behind setting up of such a commission which at a strategic level only focuses on the SAPS and not the Western Cape metro police, is suspicious if not questionable. Despite the engagements we held with the premier over the past weeks, it is evident that she is determined to continue with the commission by hook or crook, which leaves us with no option but to challenge the matter, through the legal framework.”
In response, Zille’s spokesman, Zak Mbhele said she did not include the metro police in the commission because the SAPS Act granted power to the community safety MEC, Dan Plato, to investigate and deal with complaints against that force, which Mbhele said he was doing. Still, the exclusion the metro police has been criticised by the very organisations that called for an inquiry in the first place.
The commission’s public sittings to hear evidence will start at 10am on 12 November at OR Tambo Hall, corner Mew Way and Lansdowne Road, Khayelitsha. They will be open to the public.
The minister of police has said he will turn to the courts to stop the Commission of Inquiry into police inefficiency in Khayelitsha. Despite this, the commission plans to start its hearings next week.