Police need more training to deal with impending public order protests – expert

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The South Africa Police Service requires adequate training and resources to counter ongoing service delivery protests and to deal with imminent Arab Spring style demonstrations, according to a senior police official.

According to Brigadier ‘Happy’ Schutte, operational head of the Crime Combating Units Gauteng, an Arab Spring style revolution could happen tomorrow in South Africa as large numbers of disaffected youth make up society – 80% of the youth in townships are unemployed, he said. All that is needed is the right leader to stir them up. “Then you’re going to have a problem.”

Schutte cited Moeletsi Mbeki, brother of former President Thabo Mbeki, as saying that in 2020 South Africa will experience the same riots as in Tunisia, Egypt and other North African countries. However, Schutte agrees with others that say such rioting could occur within three years time, maybe before, “if I see what the Youth League is saying”.

ANC Youth League President Julius Malema is planning to ferry unemployed youth to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) next month to protest for jobs. “We need a job revolution coming from the unemployed youth. Nobody will do it for you,” Malema said earlier this month. “Enough is enough…you must rise on the birthday of Oliver Tambo and demand houses,” Malema told supporters during the ANCYL’s 67th anniversary in Alexandra. He said the league was holding celebrations there because its residents were the most “reliable forces of the revolution”.

Supporters of Malema turned violent at the beginning of this month when they came out in support of Malema on the first day of his ANC disciplinary committee meeting in Johannesburg. Hundreds of protestors tried to break through police barricades around Luthuli House and pelted police with stones, bricks and bottles.
“This corrosive practice [of resorting to protests to challenge decisions] must be dealt with without fear or favour – regardless of who is involved,” Gauteng ANC secretary David Makhura said.

Citizens have a constitutional right to march according to the Public Gathering Act and a protest only becomes illegal if not arranged with the police, or if it turns violent.

Schutte emphasised the importance of liasing with protest organisers, a practice he says stopped years ago. He said that the new public order protest policy approved by the ministry of police will bring back negotiates with protest leaders. However, it is problematic in cases where no clear leaders are evident, such as with many service delivery protests.
“We cannot wait three years to train people to deal with such riots,” Schutte said, referring to Malema and Arab Spring style protests. “Training is the most important thing,” he noted, adding that there is not enough investment in training and this will “come back and bite”.

Since public order policing units were disbanded in 2006, it became the responsibility of the police to deal with public order protests. However, Schutte believes the police are not getting enough training to deal with protests, as the main task of the police is crime prevention.

A lack of staff and equipment are further problems facing the police. Schutte says young blood is needed for riot control duties and more equipment is needed – there are only two water cannons available in the Johannesburg/Pretoria area.

For this reason the ministry of police’s new policy calls for the establishment of public order policing units with the South African Police Service, the better training of personnel, adequate intelligence to predict riots, the establishment of contingency plans and the re-equipment of police forces.

The need for adequate public order policing is great due to the number of protests affecting South Africa now and into the future. “Service delivery protests will never die,” Schutte says. “There will never be enough houses as everybody cannot be accommodated. Service delivery protests will continue for another 20 to 100 years.”

Schutte has had 20 years’ experience in dealing with crowd situations in South Africa. He will be speaking at the defenceWeb public order policing conference early next month and will be discussing the new police policy on dealing with public protests, amongst other issues.

For more on this subject, consider attending defenceWeb‘s Public Order Policing conference at Gallagher Estate on October 3-4.

For more information contact Maggie Pienaar at ++27 11 807 3294 or [email protected]

A detailed programme is available here.