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Khayelitsha inquiry: Senior SAPS members betray prejudices

Richard Conyngham

As the inquiry's first round of public hearings draw to a close, the testimonies of high-ranking SAPS members reveal prejudices on many levels.

The testimonies of high-ranking SAPS members at cluster, provincial and national level at the Khayelitsha inquiry have revealed many prejudices. (David Harrison, M&G)

On March 24, proceedings commenced with the evidence of Colonel Alma Wiese. Now in her 31st year of service with South African Police Service (SAPS), Colonel Wiese has managed programmes at provincial and national level, covering areas such as social crime prevention, child protection, family violence and victim empowerment.

In October 2011, when SAPS introduced its cluster office system, she was appointed – and remains – the first detective co-ordinator for the Khayelitsha cluster. She explained that although her position is superior to the station and detective branch commanders within her cluster, she has never had an operational mandate, which in effect has hamstrung her role to one of deskbound information-gathering.

"I cannot walk in at any station, although my rank is a colonel, and say to that station, whose branch commander is a lieutenant colonel ... one level lower than me, this is the way he must from day-to-day manage his office. That is not my mandate; I don't have that kind of powers."

Wiese went on to describe the institutional challenges she has faced as a female police officer operating within a male-dominated system. In part owing to the limitations imposed upon her by a narrow mandate, her performance as cluster co-ordinator has relied heavily on the co-operation of her detective branch commanders, most of whom are men.

"I've been dealing with this my whole career, especially for a lady in SAPS to be in command over a lot of senior officers, males, it's quite a challenge ... I think as a woman you need to ... produce twice as much success as my male colleague to get recognised and to be taken seriously."

Male culture prevails predominantly
Advocate Ncumisa Mayosi revisited this issue in her cross-examination of Major General Hendrik Burger, the deputy provincial commissioner of the Western Cape, who has over 35 years of experience with SAPS. He described his current portfolio of human resource (HR) management as consisting of three components: personnel management, HR utilisation and HR development.

Recalling Colonel Wiese's testimony, Mayosi asked the major general whether, as an HR practitioner who is "responsible for the wellness of the organisation", he is aware of the perception that a predominantly male culture still prevails within SAPS.

Troublingly, he not only denied the existence of such a culture, but also claimed to have no knowledge of the perception of male dominance, as felt by Colonel Weise and others. His explanation was that just over 30% of the employees in SAPS Western Cape are female, and that "while ... there might still be individuals who are behaving as if police are only for men – we don't have a culture like that in the organisation."

But throughout the commission's first round of hearings, many witnesses have exposed the prejudicial cultures that prevail, both on an individual and institutional level, from the top to the bottom of the SAPS system.

Callousness
Some, for example, have described the insensitivity and callous disregard with which Khayelitsha SAPS members have treated rape victims. Others have drawn attention to the police's victimisation of foreign nationals.

But perhaps most significant of all is the inevitable conclusion that arises when one considers the resources allocated to police stations in the country's more affluent, predominantly white suburbs in relation to those allocated to stations in black working class areas such as Khayelitsha.

Undeniably, the security of South Africa's most vulnerable citizens – the disenfranchised poor – is being severely neglected, not only by the police members who are tasked with protecting them, but by the aloof provincial and national government officials' systemic failures.

In paragraph 14 of a statement signed by Brigadier Aaron Mlenga, who was station commander at Site B, presented to the commission, he asserts that, in the context of Khayelitsha "people vent their anger against the police because the police are a symbol of the state. They come to the police for everything because the police have to be a teacher, a pastor, a doctor, a lawyer, a social worker. The problem is that the people of Khayelitsha mostly live like animals".

Defensive brigadier
When advocate Peter Hathorn suggested to the brigadier that he withdraw this statement on the basis that it disrespects the dignity of people who would not choose to live in such desperate conditions, Mlenga responded defensively:

"I've been inside the shack and when I look at the conditions that the people are living in and I think for myself – I even, you know, said this to my kids, that if I retire I would never go and stay in those conditions, I would go back to where I originated from, from the rural areas. It's much better the conditions. I've never lived in a shack. I've stayed in a rondavel house, we will see to it that at my home that we build a rondavel house over a day, not a shack where there is just nothing, it's sand on the floor."

When Hathorn persisted in his request, the brigadier finally agreed to withdraw the statement.

Later in cross-examination, when advocate Nazreen Bawa probed Mlenga about his transfer to Wynberg after only a year in Khayelitsha, he revealed that during this period there had been "30-something charges" lodged against him. – GroundUp.org.za

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