Editorial: Stop police abusing their power

Protecting Number One: President Jacob Zuma. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Protecting Number One: President Jacob Zuma. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

  Perhaps more worrying than the speaker’s partiality – and her defence of the president against parliamentary attack – is when police and intelligence officers feel the need to protect the president not against the enemies of state, but against journalists. It’s of grave concern when these officers don’t mind breaking the law, and when they violate human rights and constitutionally protected freedoms.

Just before Jacob Zuma appeared in Parliament on Thursday, five unidentified white-shirted officers claiming to be from the VIP protection unit assaulted a Media24 photographer and forced him to delete images of public order policing vehicles that were massed outside Parliament ahead of the day’s session. Harassing and assaulting journalists are usually attempts to cover up and destroy evidence of unlawful conduct.

The questions are: Why the need to protect Zuma? What is he being protected from? Are we willing to sacrifice freedom of the media and violate rights to protect one man?

After 1994, our police and intelligence services were transformed from security outfits that violated human rights in defence of an unpopular executive into people-centred services aimed at defending human rights and protecting society.
The South African Police Service has been largely depoliticised, but the conduct of some of the officers in Parliament is disturbing. Some of their counterparts in intelligence are also getting embroiled in parties’ disputes in Parliament. The signal jamming that temporarily shut down electronic communications from Parliament ahead the State of the Nation address looks like heavy-handed spook activity that should not happen in our legislature.

The police and intelligence officers are supposed to be nonpartisan public servants executing their duty without favour. So far, the abuse of power seems to be confined to a few – either rogue elements or operatives instructed by a corrupt commander – but their conduct could dent the credibility and legitimacy of these services. ANC leaders and others who tacitly encourage unlawful conduct for narrow political interests will come to regret it. Another faction or party, once in power, could employ the same tactics against them.

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