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Inquiry into Khayelitsha police inefficiency under way

The inquiry was informed three days ago by the state attorney's office that Mthethwa was considering legal challenges to its establishment. In a public show of defiance, the South African Police Service was not present or represented at the first sitting of the inquiry yesterday.

Retired Constitutional Court judge Kate O'Regan told the inquiry she had been informed by letter on Friday that Mthethwa felt that the process of intergovernmental consultation regarding the establishment of the commission was not properly completed. In its letter, the state attorney's office requested that the inquiry suspend its proceedings.

O'Regan said the inquiry had responded to the state attorney and stated that it must complete its report by February 24 next year. It would not be able to suspend its proceedings as this would make it impossible to complete its report in time, she explained.

"The commission, of course, has no knowledge of the intergovernmental processes relating to its establishment and in the meantime will proceed on the basis that its establishment and mandate are lawful," confirmed Amanda Dissel, secretary of the inquiry.

Activist circles are now anticipating a legal battle to keep the inquiry going. 

"My gut-feel is that this would not be a good idea to suspend the commission of inquiry and it could be a white-wash," said Joel Bregman, senior researcher at the Social Justice Coalition, which fought for the establishment of the inquiry.

It is believed there have been as many as 18 vigilante killings in Khayelitsha this year, which many activist organisations believe is related to the community's loss of faith in police to respond to or tackle crime.

Insufficient opportunity
Two weeks ago Western Cape premier Helen Zille was asked by Mthethwa to suspend the inquiry, as he said police would like to establish its own investigation.

In a meeting with Zille, Mthethwa said police were not given sufficient opportunity to deal with the complaints.

But in her announcement about the establishment of the inquiry Zille said police officials were given ample opportunity to respond to the proposal for the establishment of the inquiry but failed to respond.

The inquiry proceedings that took place on Monday were to announce a brief overview of the commission and its terms of reference to the public. The inquiry will look into complaints relating to allegations of inefficiency of the SAPS stationed in Khayelitsha. The investigations will investigate the reasons for and causes of inefficiency and the breakdown of relations, if found to exist.

The inquiry's public hearings, where evidence against the police will be presented, will be held from November 12, and will continue through to December 14.

'An act of aggression'
The establishment of the inquiry by Zille was seen as "an act of aggression" by both Mthethwa and national police commissioner Riah Phiyaga, Zille said in correspondence to the Women's Legal Centre.

The Women's Legal Centre is representing the Cape Town organisations that fought for the establishment of a commission of inquiry into policing in Khayelitsha.

The inquiry is being headed by two heavy-weights in the legal field, with O'Regan and the former head of the National Prosecuting Authority, Vusi Pikoli, as its commissioners.

Zille confirmed to the M&G that she was asked to suspend the inquiry by Mthethwa, and said she called for comments and questioned the police about the independence and credibility of their proposal.

"When I have had the answers to my queries, I will be able to make an informed decision on the request that has been made," she said.

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Glynnis Underhill
Glynnis Underhill has been in journalism for more years than she cares to remember. She loves a good story as much now as she did when she first started. The only difference is today she hopes she is giving something back to the country.

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