/ 12 November 2012

‘The commission is necessary – we won’t back off’

In an act of protest
In an act of protest

In an act of protest, people of Khayelitsha took to the streets outside the Western Cape High Court on Monday to share their horrifying stories, following an urgent interdict by Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa and other applicants to stop the commission of inquiry into policing in the crime-ridden township.

The commission, which was due to start with public hearings in Khayelitsha this week, was replaced instead with a "people's commission of inquiry" outside the court.

And when 21-year-old Thandokazi Njamela told how she had been shot six times and her friend killed in a hail of bullets, locals and tourists stopped to listen.

"The police came to me and said I shouldn't get involved in opening a case, because the people involved in shooting you are dangerous," she said. "The police are failing us."

The mood on the street was rebellious but disciplined as the small crowd displayed posters bearing their unified responses to the halting of the commission, including: "The Commission is necessary – we won't back off", "Minister Mthethwa failed us" and "SAPS has killed the people of Khayelitsha."

Activist Zackie Achmat said that while the police were trying to silence the two commissioners of the commission, retired Constitutional Court judge Kate O'Regan and former National Prosecuting Authority head, Vusi Pikoli, they would not succeed.

In their absence, large colour photographs of the two commissioners were glued to a plastic table on the street. In the urgent interdict brought to stop the commission, Mthethwa and the other applicants are also calling for the recusal of the two commissioners for a number of reasons.

"We would like to see this commission of inquiry continue," Achmat told the crowd. "There will be another month when people will die. Another month when there is no justice."

Social Justice Coalition (SJC) workers danced and sang, venting their feelings about the halting of the commission's public hearings until the court matter is settled.

"We are not going back. Viva SJC! Viva SJC viva! Down with Nathi Mthethwa down!" shouted members of the non-governmental organisation that spearheaded the protests for a commission of inquiry to be set up.

While journalists waited in court to hear the urgent court application brought by police to halt the commission, the protesters were gathering in the street.

Meanwhile teams representing Mthethwa, national police commissioner Riya Phiyega, Western Cape police commissioner Arno Lamoer and others had already met in chambers with Judge President John Hlophe and set a new date for the controversial court application to be heard. Premier Helen Zille has maintained that she had given Mthethwa ample opportunity to respond before setting up the commission in August.

Mthethwa's spokesperson, Zweli Mnisi, told the Mail & Guardian, the parties had gathered in Hlophe's chambers. "Both parties have agreed on the timetable and the interdict argument is now set for December 13," he said.

Failing the people
Last week Mthethwa and the other applicants filed papers in the high court to have the commission temporarily suspended, pending a review of the decision by Zille to set up the commission.

The mandate of the commission is to probe allegations of police inefficiency and the breakdown of the relationship of the police and the community in Khayelitsha. A report was expected to be released by the commission on February 24 next year.

The commission had already held its preliminary hearings to inform people about how the public hearings would work, and the programme for the hearings this week had already been released.

While the public hearings were temporarily called off, the urgent interdict revealed some more horrors of life in Khayelitsha when a police report on the state of policing in the overcrowded township was lodged in court.

It showed that over 14 months, 78 people were killed by vigilante mobs, a higher number than previously believed by activists.

The report was the work of a task team sent by Phiyega in July to investigate the Khayelitsha police following complaints by organisations about the serious breakdown in trust between police and the community, and the increase in vigilantism.

The report was part of Lamoer's affidavit and court papers, and revealed a police force that appears to be in a state of collapse, with high levels of misconduct and absenteeism, with criminal cases not being adequately investigated.