Police management of COVID-19 lockdown: SAPS briefing; with Minister & Deputy Minister present

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29 April 2020
Chairperson: Ms T Joemat-Pettersson (ANC) and Ms S Shaikh (ANC; Limpopo)
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Meeting Summary

Video: Joint Meeting: Portfolio Committee on Police & Select Committee on Security &Justice, 29 April 2020
Audio: Police management of COVID-19 lockdown: SAPS briefing; Police misconduct during lockdown: IPID briefing

COVID-19: Regulations and Guidelines
Disaster Management Act 57 of 2002

Risk adjusted strategy for economic activity post lockdown
President Ramaphosa: SA Response to COVID-19

The Portfolio Committee on Police and the Select Committee on Security and Justice were briefed by members of the South African Police Service on police management of the National State Disaster lockdown. The Minister and Deputy Minister of the Department of Police were both in attendance.


The presentation highlighted the various work streams established to feed into the National Joint Operational and Intelligent Structure. The law enforcement and operational plan work stream is led by the Department and the South African Police Service plays a main role in it. The operational plan to enforce regulations includes activities such as conducting roadblocks, vehicle check points and visibility patrols. Vandalism and continued instability related to food and job security are two areas that have been prioritised. On domestic violence, all 9 provinces have recorded a decrease in the number of these incidents. There are currently 97 charges against members of the South African Police Service and 4 members have been suspended due to abuse of power. The biggest challenge that remains is a reduced workforce due to the increasing levels of infections. 2917 police members have been tested so far and those who have tested positive are either recovering, in isolation or hospitalized. Other challenges highlighted were the following: non-availability of personal protective equipment, prices being inflated by suppliers, suppliers demanding upfront payments, suppliers deviating from delivery schedules, small suppliers not delivering the quantities agreed to, the sanitizing of buildings and the disposal of used equipment. All of the challenges have been dealt with except for the disposal of equipment.

Members raised concern about the increasing number of infected police officers and asked whether they are being screened or tested before they are deployed. Police brutality and abuse was raised as a concern and members asked what the reason is for this kind of behaviour, whether there is emotional support available for officers and whether measures were being taken to demilitarize the police force. Other concerns raised were about the high number of charges brought against police officers and how fast disciplinary hearings can be attended to. Members asked how many domestic violence protection orders were registered, what the reason is for the decline in reported gender-based violence cases and whether the mobile app was active so that women don’t have to go to police stations to file a case. Members also asked whether there was a monitoring mechanism in place for the payout of pensions, what plan is in place to address school vandalism, measures in place to prevent cross border related offences and what the status of the 10111 centre in Cape Town is. The Minister was asked whether crime statistics will be released more regularly, whether he would engage with CPS and neighbourhood watches to assist the police and whether he thinks the Miggels case requires further investigation. Members also raised concern that there is not enough police presence in townships and informal settlements, what the standard procedure of arrest is and why this wasn’t being applied consistently.

The Minister agreed to respond to outstanding questions in writing.

Meeting report

Opening Remarks
Co-Chairperson Joemat-Pettersson welcomed the Ministry, members of the Committee and members of civil society to the joint meeting. The peak of the pandemic will be reached in September and everyone must play a role in adhering to the lockdown regulations. The South African Police Service (SAPS) are at the centre of managing this. The Committee appreciates the SAPS, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and the frontline officials for working under such difficult circumstances. There is a concern about the emotional state and fatigue of police officials. The President asked the police to treat citizens with respect, compassion and humility during the lockdown. There have been many complaints of heavy handiness by the police. Those who provoke the police must be urged not to do so but when it does happen, the police are not expected to retaliate with violence.

Co-Chairperson Joemat-Pettersson said the Committee has received submissions about people being harassed by the police. The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) must investigate these cases and provide responses to members. The Committee has also received submissions concerning evictions and the state of violence. Those officials who remain professional under these trying times must be applauded. The Committee expects the presentation to cover gender-based violence (GBV) and how victims are dealing under the difficult circumstances. There cannot be complete silence on the allegations of police brutality and alleged killings by the police. IPID must respond to these allegations. Officers must restrain themselves even when they are provoked. The public must be encouraged to stay indoors to make the work of the police much easier.

Co-Chairperson Shaikh greeted everyone and said the Committee has noted the national lockdown, the promulgation of regulations and the phase in approach adopted to move the country to level 4. The SAPS, SANDF and metropolitan police officers were called upon to ensure there is strict compliance with regulations during the lockdown. These officers who are working at the frontline must be commended. The Committee has noted the increased reports of harassment due to the failure of the public to adhere to the regulations, reports of GBV, allegations of police brutality, reports of police officials becoming infected and the police force being compromised. The Committee understands the Department of Police (DOP) is operating under very challenging circumstances.

Mr Bheki Cele, Minister of Police, welcomed everyone to the meeting and said the police are working under very trying times. The police are regarded as frontline workers together with health practitioners. The police are not safe from Covid-19 or from criminals. Condolences are passed to those who have lost their lives including members of police who have died in the line of duty. The police lost a young member in Sandton who was dealing with a domestic violence matter and was shot and killed. Several police officers have lost their lives around this time and the Ministry passed on its condolences to their families. The presentation will demonstrate how the police are working under these trying conditions.

Gen Khehla Sitole, National Commissioner of Police, greeted everyone in attendance and introduced his delegation.

Co-Chairperson Joemat-Pettersson said there have been slight changes to the presentation and members must keep this in mind.

Briefing by the SAPS
Maj General Leon Rabie, Head of Strategic Management, SAPS, said various work streams were established to feed into the National Joint Operational and Intelligent Structure (NATJOINTS). The current NATJOINTS consists of all governmental departments. On threat assessment, there is a specific focus on the impact of Covid-19 within correctional facilities and the readiness of state entities to respond to the pandemic. On public health infections containment, it includes the rolling out of health screening, home visits, contact tracing and the promotion of personal hygiene. On travel restrictions and border security, the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) is the lead department responsible for authorised human movement into and out of the country. On economic measures, it includes support for vulnerable workers, self-employed and informal traders and businesses. On social impact mediation measures, the focus is on promoting the well-being of all South African citizens. The community mobilization and communication work stream deals with all media related issues. On legal and regulatory measures, the focus is on the drafting of directions to ensure consistency with the regulations.

Maj Gen Rabie said the law enforcement and operational plan work stream is led by the DOP and the SAPS plays a main role in it. The operational plan to enforce regulations includes activities such as conducting roadblocks, vehicle check points and visibility patrols. Vandalism and continued instability related to food and job security are specifically prioritised. On vehicle checkpoints, the highest number of incidents are in Limpopo and the Western Cape. On domestic violence, there has been a decline in the number of incidents reported and recorded in the crime administration system. All 9 provinces are recording a decrease in the number of these incidents. On case management, the highest number of persons charged are in the Western Cape. The ‘not valid offence’ category doesn’t mean normal investigations are not continuing. There are currently 97 charges against members of the SAPS.

Maj Gen Rabie said the Covid-19 Steering Committee meets 3 times a week. The biggest challenge remains a reduced workforce due to the increasing levels of infections. The increase of infections impacts on the capabilities of police and daily deployments. There have been a number of procurement challenges such as the non-availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) and incidents where prices were inflated by suppliers. SAPS has reported these incidents for further investigation. Some suppliers demanded upfront payment and would not deliver unless this was met. Some suppliers also deviated from delivery schedules and small suppliers were not delivering quantities as agreed to. The sanitizing of buildings was a challenge because of the costs involved. The disposal of used equipment was also a challenge because PPE’s can’t be disposed of in a dustbin. There is a specific process that needs to be followed.

Maj Gen Rabie said all of the challenges were dealt with except for the current challenge of identifying a suitable company to assist with the disposal of equipment. The primary cost driver is the provision of PPE and this has to be funded from the existing baseline allocation. Since there is no additional funding available for this, the SAPS have to reprioritise and shift its own funding. From 8am this morning, 2917 SAPS employees have been tested. Out of those who have tested positive, 10 of them have recovered, 89 are in isolation, 3 have been hospitalized and 1 member passed away. On the abuse of powers by the SAPS employees, 4 members have been suspended.
The Chairperson thanked officials for the presentation. She asked members to raise questions. Members must keep in mind that there will be 2 meetings per week over the next month. Some of them will also be joint meetings. This is not the first and last meeting and members must keep in mind the time constraints today.

Mr K Maphatsoe (ANC) said SAPS had been given the task of maintaining law and ensuring South Africans don’t get infected. The number of infected police members are increasing and this is worrying. If the police service is highly infected it will impact on the monitoring of Covid-19 and whether regulations are being adhered to. The protection of police members must always be taken into consideration. The SAPS have their own PPE’s. Do members get infected when they are doing roadblocks or after they finish work? The rise of SAPS employees being arrested must also be considered.

Ms J Mofokeng (ANC) said GBV remains a concern. Did all the police stations receive a call so that they are able to go out to the families? Are there any domestic violence protection orders registered and if so, how many? Can each police station make a list available of the cases that have been recorded and what is happening with each case? There is a worry that a person can phone 3 times in a day because they can’t get through to a certain police station. Can the list of cases be sent to members? Condolences are sent to the police officer’s family who died to save the life of a woman.

Ms N Peacock (ANC) said the increasing number of infections in the police force is a concern. Are officers tested before they are deployed? Are you making sure they are screened or tested at a certain point before they start any work? Is there a plan in place for this? It will be difficult for officers to assist in the pandemic if they are part and parcel of contributing to the infection rate.

Mr A Whitfield (DA) said the presentation highlights a decrease in domestic violence cases. Members must not leave the meeting under a false pretense that there has been a decline in domestic violence but rather there has been a decline in the number of reported cases. Do you believe the decline is due to the fact that victims are locked in their homes with their abusers and don’t feel that they can go to police stations under lockdown for fear of being arrested? Is that a contributor to the decline in reported cases? Early on in the lockdown the 10111 centre in Cape Town didn’t have any PPE’s or hand sanitizers, a positive case was reported and the centre was shut down. What is the status of the 10111 centre? The Minister has released crime statistics to the public which is a departure from the norm. Is this now going to become common practice? Are we going to receive more crime statistics on a monthly or quarterly basis? If not, then why not because clearly statistics are readily available?

Mr Whitfield asked if the Minister condemns the incidents of police abuse and if he will take measures to demilitarise the police service. These measures are clear in the National Development Plan (NDP) and the White Paper on Policing in 2016. The United Nations concerns around the heavy-handed policing tactics in South Africa must also be taken into consideration. Can the Committee get an update from the Minister on his commitment to engage with CPFs and neighbourhood watches to support the police with their efforts on the ground during this difficult time? Does the Minister believe that during a case of trauma and violence somebody may experience a heart attack hours later? In the Miggels case the determination was that the gentleman had a heart attack and died of natural causes. Does the Minister believe there is a need for further investigation in this case?

Ms M Molekwa (ANC) asked if there is any mechanism in place to monitor the payout of pensions. Most of the pensioners are vulnerable as well as the payout person because there is no monitoring mechanism. How fast can the disciplinary hearings of police members be attended to? This is undermining the effort of government in combatting crime and it makes the community lose confidence in the government because crime is committed by its officials.

Ms Z Faku (ANC) said members appreciate the constant improvement when it comes to PPE’s because in the beginning this was a challenge. Members appreciate that the Department is taking initiative to ensure those helping communities have protective equipment. It is also important for communities to obey police directives. On the decrease in domestic violence, is this because its lockdown and women don’t go out and report these cases? Is the mobile app active so that people can send an SMS instead of having to go to the police station? On school vandalism, there is a high number of these incidents in Gauteng. Is there a plan to deal with this? Have there been any talks between the Minister and the Department of Education? Can the Committee get feedback on it? On the 17 cases of police members in the IPID presentation, can members get more information on what those cases are? Condolences are sent to those who have lost family members, especially families of the police.

Co-Chairperson Joemat-Pettersson said there is not enough time to deal with the IPID presentation.

Mr O Terblanche (DA) said his questions were submitted in writing as the Committee had previously agreed on. Police brutality and abuse, especially assaults, are a big concern. What is the reason for this kind of police behaviour? Is it because of a lack of proper training, command and control or is it the type of person being deployed? What are you going to do to address this issue?

Mr H Shembeni (EFF) said the issue of police brutality is a concern. Were police officers given adequate training prior to the lockdown period? There are support services available but what about emotional support? The police are working hard but they are human beings. What measures have been put in place to combat the illegal selling of cigarettes and alcohol through the borders? These substances are being brought down to South Africa from neighbouring countries. What is the Minister going to do to stop this?

Mr P Groenewald (FF+) said he already submitted questions because the Committee agreed to this in the dry run and hopefully the answers can be provided before the next meeting. The Minister must set an example to members of the police. That is the Minister’s challenge to the people of South Africa. It’s an attitude that the Minister must abide to. The attitude of the Minister should be an example of respect towards the public of South Africa and firm discipline so that an example is set for the public to comply with the regulations. The presentation mentions there are 97 charges against police officers but the IPID presentation says the total intake of cases is 403. This is quite a big difference. The Minister focuses on liquor related offences when residential related offences have a much higher number. His statements in the public create the impression that the focus of the police is on liquor. His statements should rather be on residential related offences because liquor is the second last issue as far as cases are concerned.

Co-Chairperson Joemat-Pettersson reiterated that there is not enough time for the IPID presentation. That is why 2 meetings per week have already been requested.

Mr A Emam (NFP) noted the poor conduct of the police officer who made derogatory statements against Prophet Mohammed. Can the Minister tell members what happened? On the law enforcement and operational plan, one of the major concerns is the lives of those who live in townships. There should be more law enforcement there. The plan only concentrates on road blocks and the main roads and leaves the townships and informal settlements without law enforcement. These areas should be concentrated on. As a result of the restrictions on alcohol, the Western Cape which is meant to be the epicenter of GBV, has dropped in cases by 70.5%. The stance on alcohol by the Minister must be commended. Is it not premature to reintroduce alcohol at the next level given the fact that there has been remarkable progress in the dropping of GBV statistics? What percentage of GBV cases were as a result of alcohol?

Ms Z Majozi (IFP) said condolences are sent to the families of those who have passed on during these trying times. There is a concern about the deployment of the police force in Gauteng. People are not adhering to the call made by the President to stay at home. Even in townships people are not adhering to that and there are rarely police officers patrolling the areas. What is being done on this? On the issue of cross border related offences, is the police working together with the SANDF on this? The borders must be closed up and people shouldn’t just go in and out of the country at this time. The Committee would have appreciated a draft report on how many police stations are being tested and not just police members. In a Durban police station, there were 2 police members who tested positive 2 weeks ago and now there are 4 cases but no interventions have been made. Can more information on this be provided? The police must stick to their job and stop politicizing this nation-wide lockdown.

Rev K Meshoe (ACDP) said there are grandmothers who are unable to fetch food parcels due to illness and when their grandchildren go on their behalf they are either arrested or beaten up by the police. The grandchildren don’t have permits to be in the street. How can the police help in such a case? What is the standard procedure of how the police arrest people? There are incidents where people are standing in their yard on their own property and soldiers beat them up for doing so. Does the lockdown require people to only be inside their house? Is a person breaking the regulations if they are on their property but not inside their house? Can clarity be provided on this? What is the standard procedure and why is there no consistency in its application? There is a perceived bias that whenever a pastor or church is raided there are television crews but when a tavern is raided this is seldom the case. Is there a bias and if so, what is the reason for it?

Co-Chairperson Shaikh said all members of the Select Committee should provide written questions to the Minister and the written responses must form part of the joint discussions. On the IPID presentation, a suitable date must be agreed upon to address this matter.

Mr A Gxoyiya (ANC; Northern Cape) said the issue of police should be exhausted in this meeting so that the next meeting focuses on IPID alone and a prolonged process is avoided.

Mr E Mthethwa (ANC; KwaZulu-Natal) said there is no need to provide written questions to the Minister. The issues should be raised and discussed in next week’s meetings. It’s difficult to engage on written submissions. Next week the members of the Select Committee should be the first to ask questions because they didn’t have a chance to speak today.

Co-Chairperson Joemat-Pettersson agreed and said members of the Select Committee will be allowed to speak first and ask questions next week.

Mr G Michalakis (DA; Free State) said both Houses agreed to submit questions in a written way to save time in the meeting and move onto answering the questions directly. This agreement hasn’t been adhered to. Most members have already submitted questions. Some of these questions are urgent and there has been no opportunity to speak on them. The National Council of Provinces is being treated as a second-class House. To prevent this in the future the agreement must be adhered to so that time is saved and all members are treated with the same respect and dignity.

Co-Chairperson Joemat-Pettersson said the questions were submitted very late yesterday. The Minister and his team didn’t receive all of the questions so members requested an opportunity to speak today and that whatever can’t be completed will continue in the next meeting. Members of the Select Committee will be given an opportunity to speak at the next meeting.

Minister Cele replied the questions submitted the previous day were received while the Department was in another meeting and there was no time to prepare answers. He didn’t understand the preamble of Mr Groenewald’s question. The complaint about non-respect is a debate for another day. There are ways of doing the work within the law but at the same time there must be a tough stance against criminals. Many crimes are caused by liquor but the stance on liquor is led by the health sector. There is research by the medical fraternity showing that hospital beds and space has opened up in trauma units because there are less car crashes, being people shot, stabbed and seriously injured due to alcohol. The issue of alcohol must be understood against this backdrop. On the availability of crime statistics, it has been agreed that there will be a move away from the annual presentation and statistics will be released quarterly. The recent release of statistics was just to show that the non-availability of alcohol will be continued under level 4 because otherwise it would defeat the whole programme of keeping South Africans safe. It is more about health and fighting Covid-19 than crime. On the perceived bias, many arrests and raids are made in shebeens and taverns without cameras. On Saturday, the police arrested 97 people who own and participate in shebeens but there were no cameras there. On the blasphemy incident, there was no camera there but someone came with a phone and took a video. The police are not apologising for the arrests because they broke the law. The police have apologised for the blasphemy but in terms of the arrests the police did very well.

Co-Chairperson Joemat-Pettersson said the Department has a long list of questions to respond to and this will be dealt with in next week’s meeting.

Minister Cele replied the Department will provide written responses and hope it will be regarded as oral responses. Government has to shift the way it does things in line with the new normal.

Co-Chairperson Joemat-Pettersson said there is a new norm and a new type of doing business. The submissions from civil society will also be sent to the Ministry for responses.

The meeting was adjourned.



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