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Preventing another Marikana starts with solving SAPS leadership crisis
3 July 2015

Pretoria, South Africa – ‘The Marikana massacre has had an enormous impact on the broader South African public, as well as on the South African Police Service [SAPS],’ said Gareth Newham, Head of the ISS’ Governance, Crime and Justice Division, at a seminar yesterday. ‘At the time it was incomprehensible how such a police massacre could happen in our democracy. With the release of the Marikana report, we now know that fundamental failings of senior SAPS leaders is the direct cause of the unnecessary shootings of 112 striking mineworkers, during which 34 died,’ said Newham.

In the seminar, which addressed the concerns raised by President Jacob Zuma’s recently released Marikana report, Newham emphasised that steps must urgently be taken to repair the SAPS. This is crucial if tragedies such as the Marikana massacre are to be prevented from recurring in future.

Such steps have already been set out clearly by both the evidence leaders of the Marikana Commission, as well as in the National Development Plan (NDP). ‘The government need only follow its own recommendations to ensure that the SAPS has a strong, highly skilled and honest top leadership team, who could truly professionalise this important organisation,’ said Newham. ‘The problems faced by the SAPS are not insurmountable. There are excellent individuals within the organisation – unfortunately, their hard work is undermined by incompetent and dishonest colleagues.’

Senior police appointments should be entirely depoliticised: only persons with expert knowledge should be appointed to senior positions. Policing is a very particular skill, and managing police organisations requires extensive experience and insight. Newham echoed the call by the evidence leaders of the Marikana Commission for government to publicly commit to professionalising the SAPS through appointments of trained and skilled personnel.

The Marikana Commission was highly critical of SAPS senior leadership for their attempts to mislead the commission. ‘The untruthful testimony given by at least six senior officials at the Marikana Commission of Inquiry, as well as the attempt to withhold and alter evidence so as to mislead the commission and the public, reveals a shocking lack of integrity at the highest levels of the SAPS,’ said Newham.

He explained that the SAPS’ organisational culture has come to be characterised by a lack of transparency, honesty and accountability. This prevents the police from doing their jobs, and is the same reason why the Marikana massacre happened. ‘This culture must change as a matter of urgent priority,’ argues Newham. Another outcome is the significant breakdown of public trust in the SAPS. Public trust and confidence in the police are prerequisites for effective policing.

The NDP correctly points to a crisis of senior management in the SAPS. These leadership shortcomings have contributed to deteriorating public safety, as evidenced by a substantial rise in violent, organised crime.

Certainly SAPS National Commissioner Riah Phiyega will face a board of inquiry into her fitness to hold office following the commission’s findings against her. President Jacob Zuma would be wise to suspend her pending the outcome of this inquiry, as Phiyega’s authority may well be misused to undermine further investigations into police officers.

‘The public must not think, however, that simply replacing Phiyega will necessarily improve the leadership situation in the SAPS,’ said Newham. ‘Phiyega exacerbated the SAPS leadership crisis, but there are too many senior commanders who have been appointed irregularly and who do not have the necessary skills, expertise or integrity.’

This is why the NDP calls for the establishment of a National Policing Board that would conduct a competency assessment of all senior officers and review the organisational culture of the SAPS. Those who are fit for their posts will be duly recognised and their authority enhanced. Those who fall short should be redeployed. Similarly, the NDP recommends that the president only appoint the national commissioner and deputies on recommendations by a panel that interviews candidates following a competitive and transparent recruitment process.

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