National Police Commissioner General Khehla Sitole speaks out on July unrest


National Police Commissioner, General Khehla Sitole, says police could have done better to respond to and mitigate the damage done by the July unrest.

He was speaking during an appearance at the South African Human Rights Commission’s National Investigative Hearing into the unrest which claimed at least 300 lives and caused at least R25 billion in damage to businesses in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

The hearing is being held in KwaZulu-Natal and is expected to conclude on 3 December.

Evidence leaders at the hearing grilled the National Commissioner on the public violence and criminality which broke out during the unrest and whether or not the police carried out their Constitutional mandate to prevent crime and protect those living in South Africa.

“It won’t be correct to say that we might have violated…the Constitution. But it would be correct to say we did not do enough. But there were great achievements during this unrest and there were those incidents that were foiled and prevented. But at the very beginning we were not equal to the task to prevent.

“There is where we did quite well but it was not enough,” he said.

Sitole highlighted that one of the biggest challenges facing police during that period was the lack of enough police officers on the ground in hot spot areas.

“There was a…human capital crisis. But at the same time, there was a need for the deployment of your capital resources like your Nyalas as well as water cannons. But then there was also a need to fly members for deployment which required air support. And as a result, I called all the support role players. They were convened and given assignments to say let us see where we are required to deploy both physical and human resources,” he said.

According to Sitole, those police officers who were deployed were resourced.

“The members who were deployed were properly equipped and everyone who was sent down to provide support was given the equipment. But we needed to have more members and if we had more members we would have had more [equipment] and I think our presence and pressure would have been felt in a quicker way,” he said.

Sitole added that as the unrest unfolded, police moved to put in an operational plan to quickly quell the violence in the two provinces.

“The operational plan…and the purpose was to provide a response to the unrest which already broke out and it was flowing from the national crime combatting process.

“The plan was executed because the deployments kicked off through it and part and parcel of one of the deliverables…was the assembling of an investigative response that lead to putting together an investigation team and that’s where we started effecting arrests. [The plan] also included the deployment of intelligence in other areas which were not affected yet. Eventually we managed to stabilise the unrest which then overlapped to normalisation,” he said.

Sitole assured the commission that although some challenges still persist in human resources, the police would be much more prepared to face another unrest of July’s magnitude.

“We would have enough resources including the corporate renewal of crime intelligence in order to intensify the capacity of…intelligence. Then I can give the assurance that yes, we will be able to provide a response. But we will still need to continue with the growth of the organisation because we must contend with the growing population,” he said.

Sitole is expected to make another appearance before evidence leaders before the conclusion of the hearings next week.