More than meets the eye?

What has happened to the police force that is supposed to prevent and combat crime and protect the community, asks Abré J Steyn.

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I’ve spent a substantial part of my fishing days on small boats on the many untamed rivers and lakes of Africa. Fishing often brought me in contact with the only wild animal that I really fear – the hippo – generally accepted as one of the most dangerous animals on the continent.

I’ve had several close encounters with them and on one occasion on land, I only escaped certain death when I managed to divert a charging hippo by throwing my crutch right between its eyes when it was about four paces away from me. But it’s when I see only the top of their heads above water, and realise there’s more than meets the eye under the surface, that I fear hippos most.

Last week I voiced my utter disapproval of the new Draft Dangerous Weapons Bill 2011 of the South African Police Service (SAPS), a shocking piece of unconstitutional hogwash representing only the hippo’s ears as far as police arrogance and incompetence is concerned.

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To some it may seem unimportant that it may become illegal for a farmer or hunter to carry a pocket knife or a woman to have a can of pepper spray in her handbag, but to me it gives only a hint of the enormously dangerous hippo hidden under the blood-stained water of our much hailed post-apartheid democracy. It demands that we dive beneath the surface and take a look at the bigger picture.

The website of the SAPS on the one hand states that, according to our Constitution, the responsibility of the SAPS is to prevent, combat and investigate crime; to maintain public order; to uphold and enforce the law; to ensure criminals are brought to justice; and to participate in efforts to address the causes of crime.

On the other hand, it equally prominently states that the SAPS has to protect and secure the inhabitants of the country and their property; create a safe and secure environment for all people in South Africa; prevent anything that may threaten the safety or security of any community; and investigate any crimes that threaten the safety or security of any community.

This is a serious challenge, but this is what the Constitution demands and what we as tax payers pay for with our hard-earned money. But far too often, this is not what we get. Just recently, we again contributed R54 billion to General Bheki Cele’s budget.

The truth is out there
Nowhere does the Constitution say that the police must disarm the law-abiding population, because everyone in their right mind knows that the more vulnerable and defenceless a community or society is, the more crime will escalate.

Does it make any sense that a farmer (or anyone else) is allowed only one self-defence weapon to defend themselves, their family and property in the light of 1 363 farm murders that have taken place, often accompanied by horrendous brutality?

If you add the farm workers who also lost their lives during these attacks, the figure increases to over 3 000. The murder rate in the farming community in South Africa works out at 200 per 100 000 of the population per year, the highest in the world. Although it doesn’t make sense, this is what the police, who forced an unconstitutional and flawed Firearms Control Act upon us, indirectly achieved.

The act also turned the lives of many hunters into a bureaucratic nightmare. An internationally respected member of the Professional Hunters Association (PHASA) was recently denied licences for eight of his nine hunting firearms covering the whole spectrum from small game and birds, to elephant.

Of the lot, including his .411 and .458 big game rifles, he was only allowed his .375 for everything – all because PHASA is not recognised by the police as a hunting organisation. All the public effort, manpower and billions involved for almost a decade to implement this act was a total waste, because when challenged in the Supreme Court, it was ruled unconstitutional.

Then, in an act of utter defiance and contempt, the police ignored the ruling of the court and continued to implement the act under which you will be declared unfit to possess any firearm if robbers force you at gunpoint to open your safe or break it open during your absence. You’ll be punished for being a victim of crime.

No, it doesn’t make sense. Neither did it make sense to a parliamentary committee in March this year, when it was revealed that this same police had “lost” no fewer than 20 429 of their own firearms (284 a month), since April 2004.

Even more alarming is a report by the auditor-general that an estimated 82 000 firearms belonging to the South African National Defence Force and the Navy are unaccounted for. A staggering 72 000 of these missing firearms used to belong to the army. But it’s logical that, unless recovered, these arms will eventually end up in the hands of criminals.

Add to that thousands of illegal arms still smuggled over our borders as well as thousands more stolen from licenced owners, and the disarming measures of the police takes on a new meaning and starts to look more sinister.

It might look like preparations for genocide, but for the moment it manifests itself in a murder rate that, although down according to the latest statistics, is still horrific. During the last year, 15 940 people were murdered (at 44 per day), eight times the world average, while 56 272 women and children were reported raped, one every 10 minutes!

Who to trust?
Every society in the world relies on the honesty and truthfulness of its policemen and women. A great deal of trust is placed in their integrity and credibility. We still have great police officers, who often die to protect us. We salute them, but the force is only as good as its top structure. If the top is rotten, it will spread down to the lowest ranks.

The SAPS of the ANC regime started off well, but one cannot ignore the fact that Nelson Mandela chose a competent man with a long and exemplary police career, George Fivaz, as his police commissioner. He put measures in place, such as specialised units to eradicate crime, but soon these units were disbanded and he was replaced by two political appointments.

Jackie Selebi, a corrupt businessman with a shady past, with no police experience but connections in the underworld, was the first. He was also appointed chief of Interpol, but fell from grace when found guilty of receiving bribes and turning a blind eye to drug trafficking and eventually ended up a convicted criminal.

At this stage, it’s difficult to say much about General Bheki Cele, because his game isn’t over yet. But he is apparently turning the police back into a paramilitary force, with military-style rankings and a “shoot-to-kill” attitude, determined to render the citizenry utterly defenceless with measures such as the Dangerous Weapons Bill.

Police brutality, under his command instead of his management, has lately escalated. Allegations of torture have become commonplace. Many unarmed civilians, among them women and children and an incomplete list of 33 black protestors against government corruption, were allegedly shot by police. Frequent involvement of police in criminal activities has led us to fear the police as much as the criminals. But the wheels are turning.

We call on President Zuma to get the police under control. Start at the top, evaluate the force, weed out the rotten and appoint a new, honourable crime-fighter from the ranks as commissioner. Evaluate the public and licence people to own guns, not guns to be owned by people. Otherwise we’ll all be devoured by criminals and a raging hippo bull in a blue uniform.

Contact Abré J Steyn on 083 253 4822 or email [email protected].

When on a small boat, I fear a hippo most when I see only the top of its head above water and realise there’s more than meets the eye under the surface. That’s how I feel about the incompetent police nowadays too.