Remarks by the Minister of Police, E.N. Mthethwa, MP at the defenceWeb Public Order Policing Conference


Remarks by the Minister of Police, E.N. Mthethwa, MP at the DefenceWeb Public Order Policing Conference, Gallagher Estate, Midrand, Gauteng, 04 October 2011

Conference Chairperson, Colonel David Peddle;

Deputy Police Commissioner of Botswana, Mr Keabetswe Makgophe;

Deputy Political Counselor from US Embassy, Ms Kate Pongonis;

Representatives from the Nigerian National Security present;

Representatives from SAPS present;

Representatives from Rheinmetall Denel present;

Representatives SAP present;

Represent Lethal Africa present;

Representatives B&T present;

Distinguished Delegates;

Members of the Media;

Ladies and Gentlemen;

As the police leadership, we wish to express our appreciation to the organizers for inviting us to engage with you on this important subject. 

We purposefully refer to this occasion as an engagement precisely because it should not be understood as a one-way approach, which means, from us to you.  It is a two-way engagement because our policing approach is cemented around partnerships.

It is therefore this understanding that the duty of reducing and fighting crime cannot be achieved by police alone.  That all of us in our different spheres yet similar objectives have a crucial role to play; whether one looks at the research fraternity, academia, civil society or business sector. 

As we began to address the issue of public protests in South Africa, we did so cognizant that first and foremost, to protest is a constitutionally-entrenched right of any citizen.

The Constitution of the Republic, Section 205 (3) enjoins the South African Police Service (SAPS) to combat, prevent and investigate crime; to maintain public order, protect and secure the inhabitants of the Republic and their property, and to uphold and enforce the law.

We recognize that public order policing is one aspect of policing that requires our attention. However before we look at the public order policing specifically it is necessary to look at policing as a whole.  This is because public order policing does not operate in isolation from how the police as a whole perform and operate.

Therefore while we need to look at our approaches to how public order policing occurs, we cannot isolate public order policing from the broader issues of transformation in the police.  Even if we develop the best policy there is regarding public order policing, the implementation of this policy will be influenced by the type of Police Service that exists.

Developments post 1994, have required focus on the transformation and accountability of the police establishment in the country, to adapt it towards the functioning and needs of a democratic State.  The type of Police Service required is one that is professional, upholds the Constitution and respects human dignity.

Whilst there has been some progress made regarding the demographic composition of the police, there is still considerable work required, not only in building a representative Service, but also in making sure our transformation addresses the broader context of the developmental State, guiding policy framework and the principles contained in the Constitution.

Approaches to transformation within the SAPS must be aimed at changing the internal police environment and culture of the police so that we can develop a Police Service which is representative, efficient and effective.  It must be SAPS that is transparent, accountable, upholds and executes its mandate in accordance with the Constitution, legislation and the needs of the community.

To achieve this, police must clearly understand their roles and functions in society.  Police action must always be motivated by sound knowledge of police purpose and involve constant application of the law. 

Our approach to transformation must speak to human resource development; from recruitment to retirement.  It must involve a change in attitude, values and norms of behaviours.  There must also be a responsibility of management to foster and implement the changes and strategy.

In ensuring this transformation is not just rhetoric, we needed to develop a clear strategy for transformation that does not exist as a stand-alone strategy but is incorporated into and reflected in the overall strategy of the SAPS.  This strategy must then guide transformation over the next five to ten years.

Moving on to public order policing specifically; we need to recognize that the dynamics in public order policing South Africa after 1994 have undergone a major shift.  Prior to 1994 the police, supported by the military, were tasked to suppress and use force to control unrests flowing from political opposition.

Equally so, the SAPS Act 68 of 1995 attempted to bring about a change in our policing approach with the introduction of community-based policing and the need to expunge the apartheid policing style and stigma.  Due to a lack of clear policy and guidelines, the SAPS reacted with operational policy based on lessons learned from a number of notable incidences involving the police and the public.

In August this year, we looked into our policy around public order policing because we felt that it was important to determine whether our policy conformed with the Constitutional and legal imperatives. We further needed to examine whether the operational policies and strategies of the SAPS allowed for appropriate planning, interventions and/or responses in respect of public order policing.

Whilst the policy focuses mainly on the policing of public protests and gatherings, it is also aimed at providing a framework with guidelines for the SAPS in reviewing and aligning its operational strategies and instructions applicable to public order policing.  In developing policy and guidelines for public order policing, we want to ensure our policing approach is consistent with:
o        Constitutionally-accorded rights for all individuals
o        Effective and peaceful crowd control demands
o        An approach that does not impact negatively and enhances tensions between the police and community
o        Our policing approach does not  generate the very violence it seeks to control in public protests

Section 17 (Chapter 6) of the SAPS Act no 68 of 1995 provides that a public order policing unit shall be established and maintained by the National Police. To this end, Standing Order and Instructions have also been developed to address public order policing.

While such POP Units were established during 1996, the existence of public order policing was subject to various restructuring initiatives in the police which not only changed the existence of a specific unit/s but also affected their capacity and functions. The details of which most of you present at this Conference would be familiar with.

Technically it could be argued that the restructuring resulted in the POPs unit no longer existing as ‘a specialized (dedicated) public order policing function’ as envisaged in the SAPS Act.  In developing our policy we also looked at a number of different issues including the effect this restructuring has had on public order policing. 

This notion is strengthened by the constant negative public scrutiny of current policing methods and approaches applied during such protests and gatherings.  Based on this notion our policy approach to public order policing dictates that:
·         We must re-establish and maintain POPs Units which have the necessary capacity, command and control structures to effectively carry out public order policing.
·         To ensure that we improve the training related to public order policing. This training must be designed to reflect current standards established by statutory law. This must include but not necessarily be limited to; the use of force in general, the use of physical and mechanical force, the use of deadly force, and the limitations that govern the use of force and deadly force.
·         In the South African context, any operational policing strategy must take into account the operational environment and should be based upon sound democratic principles, which do not infringe on the human rights of citizens, whilst simultaneously protecting innocent citizens against any threat which might be posed by the public protest.
·         The policing of public protests and gathering does not necessarily occur on a daily basis and the members of the POP units must be able to be deployed to other visible policing activities. The specialized skills of such units, in fact, could assist the police in some of their visible policing activities such as road block and cordon and search operations.
·         The success of effective response by the SAPS with regard to public order policing is dependent on a strong line of command and control.  It has been proved that command and control has different meaning to different people. Within the context of policing public policing, command and control simply means that certain people must know that they have different roles to play.
·         SAPS Commanders must have negotiation skills and be able to use these skills during gatherings. In the case of a planned gathering, the Commanders must be able to negotiate with the organizers of the gathering, or the person nominated for this purpose, as and when required or necessary.

It should further be noted that the Metro Police Service does not have powers to police public protests. In terms of their mandate their functions is limited/restricted to crime prevention activities, enforcement of by-laws and traffic policing. This suggests that once the SAPS arrive at a public protest scene, they must take full control.

This includes command and control and where further assistance is required from the Metro Police members, the SAPS command and control will supersede.  The SAPS shall ensure that such Metro Police members are in full compliance with all the requirements within this policy.

There is also a need to implement approaches which would in the immediate term have an impact on crime levels, which would also lead to communities having greater confidence in the police. In crafting this policy, we needed to be frank about what was working and what required serious attention and intervention when it came to handling of public protests. We needed to examine key areas of policing and focus on a few selected areas that would significantly impact on crime.

Management is also crucial in the effective implementation of this policy.  In our view, management is not only about issuing instructions but also managing how these instructions are implemented.  We are emphasizing the need for management to be held accountable and to reassert discipline within the police.

As we conclude, we want to say that we are under no illusion that there are quick fix solutions to policing challenges in South Africa.  We do believe that over the last two years we have begun to put in place processes that are not only yielding some successes, but will also become the building blocks for the Police Service we envisage.

The 2010/11 financial year crime statistics confirm our assertion that indeed the tide against crime is turning and that police, joined by society are gaining an upper hand against vicious criminals.  The statistics however, should serve as a motivating factor and encouragement in all our efforts.

We would therefore pose a challenge to the Conference that as you conclude with your deliberations, that you further engage us post the Conference.  We believe as experts in your specific fields, you have a role to play in this cause.  Like any other policy document, its effectiveness must be measured through its effective implementation. 

Nevertheless, we remain confident that as we move forward, public protests will achieve their goal, that of ensuring that citizens express themselves without provocations between police and citizens.

I thank you.

Zweli Mnisi

Chief Director: Communications/Spokesperson

Ministry of Police

Republic of South Africa

Tel: +27 (0)12 393 4341 & +27 (0)21 467 7007

Fax: +27 (0)12 393 2833 & +27 (0)21 467 7033

Mobile: +27 (0)82 045 4024

Email: [email protected]