/ 12 November 2013

Khayelitsha policing inquiry ready to get going

Kate O'Regan and Vusi Pikoli chair the commission of inquiry into policing in Khayelitsha.
Kate O'Regan and Vusi Pikoli chair the commission of inquiry into policing in Khayelitsha.

A year after Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa first approached the courts in a bid to stop a commission of inquiry into policing in Khayelitsha, the proceedings will kick off again this week with a preliminary sitting.

There was an air of déjà vu as retired Constitutional Court judge Kate O'Regan and former national director of public prosecutions advocate Vusi Pikoli met with the press on Tuesday to try to get the word out to residents in Khayelitsha.

"We will be investigating allegations of inefficiency in the South African Police Service in the three police stations it has in Khayelitsha, as well as an alleged breakdown in the relationship between the community and the South African Police Service," O'Regan told journalists. 

"If the commission finds that there are inefficiencies or a breakdown, then our task is to make recommendations as to alleviate or remedy that inefficiency or that breakdown. And I really want to start by saying that the purpose of this commission is that the people of Khayelitsha are entitled to a safe and secure environment, consistent with our Constitution."

Commission spokesperson Amanda Dissel said the sitting on Wednesday would take place at Lookout Hill in Khayelitsha at 10am. "Tomorrow's hearing is going to focus on procedural aspects," she said at the Harare Library, where the commission had been taking statements from the community.

"[This is] just to check how far we are. How far the various parties are in terms of preparation, and also the various rules and procedures, and how it's going to be organised."

The lively noise of children walking home from school could be heard outside the library building where the commission has its offices in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. Many children gathered on the library steps to play, oblivious of the historic happenings upstairs as the commission laid out its plans that could affect their future.

Public hearings
While the court proceedings were going on, the commission did not shut down its work and residents continued to make submissions.

It remains to be seen when the commission really gets going with public hearings in January next year whether the police will co-operate with the requests for the documents it requires to complete its work.

The commission was set up by Western Cape Premier Helen Zille in August last year, following complaints from various community organisations in Khayelitsha about the state of policing in the township.

Residents said police inaction compelled them to take the law into their own hands, leading to vigilantism.

Zille was accused by Mthethwa of trying to undermine the independence of the police.

Mthethwa approached the Constitutional Court, following a Cape Town high court ruling against his bid to stop the commission of inquiry into policing in Khayelitsha. The minister decided to make an application for leave to appeal to the Constitutional Court, but was unsuccessful.

At the time, Mthethwa claimed he and the national police commissioner General Riah Phiyega had undertaken to work with Zille and civil society organisations to address their concerns.

Task team
Mthethwa said Phiyega had established a task team to consider the matter and it had submitted a comprehensive report to her before the commission was launched. A further investigation was about to be launched, Mthethwa claimed.

At the time, he said he did not want two inquiries considering the same complaints.

However, in a unanimous judgment in October, the court declined Mthethwa leave to appeal against the court ruling, dismissing his application for an interdict suspending the inquiry pending a review.

The Constitutional Court found that section 206 (5) of the Constitution gives a province the power to establish a commission of inquiry into policing.

In the judgment handed down by Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, the court held that without coercive powers the commission would be unable to fulfil its mandate. It dismissed the argument that the terms of reference were too vague or broad.

"The Constitutional Court refused to make an order declaring the premier's decision to establish the commission inconsistent with the Constitution and invalid," it said.

The judgment found the premier was obliged to take reasonable steps to shield the residents of Khayelitsha from an unrelenting invasion of their fundamental rights as a result of the alleged police inefficiency.

The commission hopes to complete its work in the first half of 2014.