“The SAPS was engaged in a war on crime that needed public support and confidence and they themselves cannot afford to have their image dented by rogue elements which violate the very code they strive to uphold” — Bobby Stevenson.
ASTAGGERING 2 100 complaints of brutality involving assault, rape and murder have been laid against Eastern Cape police in the past three years – a trend experts warn is fostering and legitimising violence in the province.
The shocking statistics, revealed by Safety and Liaison MEC Helen Sauls-August in the Bhisho Legislature, have angered politicians and human rights groups who have called for drastic and immediate action on “rogue” elements within the South African Police Service (SAPS).
While 531 and 524 complaints of assault were laid against police officers in 2008/2009 and 2009/2010 respectively, this figure has shot up dramatically to 651 – or nearly two a day – for the current 2010/2011 period.
But it is the 108 murders and 262 complaints of sexual assaults – including rape, 30 cases of attempted rape and 53 of assault – in the past three years that is the greatest cause for concern.
The Independent Complaints Directorate (IDC), which investigates complaints of criminality and misconduct by members of the SAPS, said it was deeply troubled by the statistics.
ICD national spokesman Moses Dlamini said: “Of course we should be concerned about the involvement of police members in crime.
“But the best way to combat this is to report crime when it happens and to be willing to testify to ensure such members are brought to book.”
Dlamini said police management should ensure disciplinary action was taken swiftly against errant members.
“The new legislation that establishes the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), which will replace the ICD soon, makes it compulsory to report certain offences.
“This will ensure an accurate account of such offences is kept and that the members involved, if found guilty, are punished and rooted out of the SAPS.”
Dr Lesley Ann Foster, director of the Masimanyane Women’s Support Centre in Port Elizabeth, attributed the statistics to the fact that “the kind of policing we are using in this country fosters and legitimises violence”.
“No one can use violence in one setting and not apply it in another.
“So, encouraging police to use violence in the course of their work sanctions the use of such violence in their private relationships and responses,” Foster said. She called for all policemen accused of rape to be reported to the Public Protector.
Foster said because police were part of society their behaviour reflected society as a whole.
“The fact there are so many cases of violence and abuse made against the police is indicative of such violent behaviour being normalised in our society.
“We have to make many serious changes throughout societal structures if we want our communities as a whole to reduce their levels of violence towards one another.”
In addition, the fact so many rape complaints had been made against policemen was a further indication of how badly women were disrespected and how some men took advantage of their positions of power to rape women.
“It brings into sharp focus that the state as a whole is sanctioning abuse against women and allowing impunity among its duty bearers or ‘state actors’ as they are sometimes referred.”
DA MPL Bobby Stevenson said when more than 2 100 complaints of violence were laid against members of the SAPS in the province, “alarm bells should be ringing in provincial headquarters”.
He said the SAPS was engaged in a war on crime that needed public support and confidence and “they themselves cannot afford to have their image dented by rogue elements which violate the very code they strive to uphold”.
Stevenson said: “All too frequently members of the SAPS are accused of violent crime. This trend can never be tolerated in a society which, given our struggle history, should have a human rights culture at its centre.
“Getting tough on crime can never be at the expense of being strong on upholding the law by members of the SAPS.”
Stevenson said where there were serious grounds for believing police members were engaged in misconduct they should be suspended pending a speedy investigation.
He would submit questions to ascertain what steps had been taken to reduce police involvement in violent crime and how successful these interventions had been.