So the deputy minister of police, Fikile Mbalula, is now being heralded as someone who has a complete disregard for our Constitution, one who wants to kill people of South Africa, an enemy of democracy.
For years I read articles and readers’ comments about the state of crime in South Africa and the inability of government in general, the police specifically, to deal with this scourge. Then along came a man who says things the way they are and plans accordingly to eliminate this problem. But because he is of a certain political party, we feel a moral and ethical obligation to ensure that his views are refuted as mad ravings of a power-hungry wannabe?
The problem is that Section 49 of the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA) is too vague and broad and puts the emphasis on “discretion”, but then it goes further and makes it almost impossible for a police officer to defend that discretion. Coupled to that is the fact that the South African Police Act (as amended) and the Independent Complaints Commission Act (as amended) makes it difficult further for police to use “effective force” to ensure that a crime is prevented or the perpetrator is brought to book.
Criminals are getting more and more sophisticated. Many crimes in South Africa, minor as well as major, could either be linked to or follow the same patterns as those used by syndicates. Criminals seem to have a very good understanding of South African law. They know that the police cannot shoot them provided they stick to certain criteria. For instance just make sure that as you run away you do not face the police officer on the scene. As long as your back is to them they have to fire a warning shot and wait for you to turn around and face them. How ridiculous is that?
Our minister of police introduced this issue last year already but now it seems as if the matter is being strongly pushed by his deputy. But I challenge anyone, anyone to tell me when Mbalula has ever said that it’s okay for the police to become trigger-happy. I have yet to see a statement from him stating that the police should just take out their weapons and start shooting at random. In fact the only recollection I have (and believe me, my recollection is very good and based on copies of all his statements on this issue) is of him demanding that the police should have the power to use effective force in implementing their constitutional mandate, including the use of deadly force.
From experience we know that every war has its casualties. I recently read a blog by an Israeli trying to explain why Israel is killing scores of innocent Palestinians in their quest to rid the region of Islamic fundamentalists! And we are at war against crime and criminals. But Mbalula has also stated that the law would not only be amended to give police power to shoot criminals, it would also be enhanced to ensure that police are accountable for every shooting. And where innocent people are shot, there would be a system to deal with that. In fact the national commissioner of police agreed to the criminal prosecution of a police constable who recently shot and killed a three-year-old boy rather than have an official investigation by the Independent Complaints Directorate, which would only take up time and resources.
So the amendment of Section 49 of the CPA is not about giving police the power to kill the whole country. It is a necessary tool to ensure that we deal effectively with crime and criminal activities. What we as a community can do is ensure that trigger-happy cowboys in the police are highlighted and that they are brought to book. Even when it seems that the system is protecting that type of element, we should make our voices heard — there are enough tools at our disposal to ensure that this rings true.
So, to Mbalula, you are indeed a brave man. I salute you and, despite the naysayers, am sure that the majority of people in South Africa are squarely behind your vision for a South Africa that offers security, comfort and peace.