Call to streamline and speed up SANDF deployments supporting police

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An overview of the 2021 unrest by a presidentially appointed expert panel presented Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Police with 34 recommendations for action to prevent similar occurrences.

National Police Commissioner Fannie Masemola and Police Minister Bheki Cele will have to act on 18 recommendations – more than half the 34 made by the panel. Others made by Professor Sandy Africa’s three-member panel are 11 applicable to the National Intelligence Co-ordinating Committee (NICOC); three for the Civilian Secretariat for the SA Police Service (CSPS) and one each for the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) and what the report lists as the Department of Co-operative Governance [presumably Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’ Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs].

The SANDF was drafted in as an Operation Prosper deployment to assist police during the July 2021 unrest and the recommendation concerning it is contained in the complete 154 page report for President Cyril Ramaphosa, but not listed in the tabled report.

The applicable part reads: “The authorisation process for the employment of the SANDF and the request to the President must be streamlined to avoid unnecessary delay. The best approach would be that once the Minister of Police determines that the police need the support of the Army, she/he must immediately approach the President to authorise such, with details of how many SANDF members are needed, where”.

The Report of the Expert Panel, under Africa’s leadership, continues: “The Minister of Defence will then get an instruction from the President to start preparing for the deployment, while the joint submission to the President is prepared. In cases of emergency phone calls should be used, as long as the joint submission and the employment are in writing. Such a process can take less than an hour to finalise”.

Unrest began on 9 July 2021 but it was not until 12 July that the SANDF was deployed in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, helping restore law and order around 17 July.

Among recommendations made for action by SAPS management in the presentation to Parliament are holding those accused of criminal conduct accountable. This is elaborated on by stating 68 suspects were arrested and “their cases are not yet finalised”. Cases are pending in the Durban Magistrate’s Court with two cases pending in the Durban and Pietermaritzburg high courts.

Another recommendation has it police officers at station level should receive adequate training in crowd control and there should be exercises to simulate what to do under conditions of extreme violence.

The report further has it police “should work towards rebuilding the trust of communities and build or strengthen formal and informal relations between the communities they serve, including community leaders”. SAPS surveys, undertaken in conjunction with Unisa, show a public satisfaction index of just over 50% with police performance. This drops to 41% for the safe and secure environment confidence index with feedback on complaints at 40.7%.

SAPS, according to the report, developed deliverables as part of its National Policing Strategy Annual Operational Plan 2023/24. Included are “Implementation of the Community-in-Blue concept” and traditional policing, a review of the community policing strategy and a “re-invigoration of the approach to community policing”.

It also notes service delivery improvement plans (SDIAPs) for divisions, components, provinces, districts, stations and units for 2023/24 are finalised and distributed.

On crowd control, the presentation has it procurement processes are in place for “critical specialised equipment for modernised crowd management”. Additionally, crowd management training – “five learning programmes” – exposes police to “realistic crowd management simulations, including large scale operations”. These recommendations apply to public order policing (POP).

More than 10 000 policemen and women have been trained to assist in crowd management situations, as first responders, while 4 900 POP police were trained between April 2022 and April 2023. Training included basic crowd management principles and techniques, use of armoured vehicles and water cannon.

To capacitate POP units, 4 000 new entry level SAPS Act members were enlisted during 2022/23, with 3 460 will be deployed at POP provincial units and 540 at the POPS National Reserve Unit. They are currently attending a Workplace Exposure Training Programme at police stations and will report to their respective POP Units on 6 October, Parliament heard.

With an eye on possible future civil unrest the latest SA Yearbook (2021/22) noted “public unrest in July 2021 highlighted the need to strengthen law enforcement agencies, including the SANDF to ensure they are equipped to respond quickly to such incidents. To this end, the department [of defence] plans to set up a rapid response capability unit, which will support the SAPS when needed, with a brigade of between 2 000 and 5 000 soldiers, comprising paratroopers, the SA Air Force (SAAF) and SA Military Health Service (SAMHS). The unit will be set up at a projected cost of R50 million in 2022/23 in the Force Employment programme”.