Follow-up meeting on police management & misconduct during COVID-19 lockdown; with Minister & IPID
08 May 2020
Chairperson: Ms S Shaikh (ANC; Limpopo) and Ms T Joemat-Pettersson (ANC)
The Portfolio Committee on Police and the Select Committee on Security and Justice held a joint virtual meeting and was briefed by the Minister of Police on written responses to questions raised by Members. Members raised the following concerns:
- the shortage of police resources, particularly vehicles;
- the monitoring of released inmates;
- police members taking bribes;
- the standard amount of a fine issued for contravening the lockdown regulations;
- whether the police have enough personal protective equipment;
- whether police members are screened every day before they are deployed;
- the smuggling of cigarettes and alcohol from neighbouring countries; and
- police stations who release people that show signs of Covid-19.
The Minister confirmed that crime statistics will be released quarterly. He also addressed the incident where SAPS members were accused of being blasphemous. He explained that the 3 people who were arrested all have the name Mohammed. The police member asked whether the arrestees thought they, and not Prophet Mohammed, were bigger than the President. The member has been cleared because he did not refer to Prophet Mohammed.
Members also raised concern that police were arresting shop owners who possess permits to conduct their businesses and asked whether deployed police members are able to take down statements and testify in court when needed. Police brutality and heavy-handedness was also raised as a concern. Members asked for an update on how far the police are with the Senzo Meyiwa case.
The Independent Police Investigative Directorate also briefed MPs on police misconduct during the National State Disaster lockdown. The presentation highlighted that there is a total of 828 cases from the period of 26 March to 5 May 2020. Out of the 828 cases received, 376 cases relate to Covid-19 operations and 16 relate to gender-based violence. Gauteng and the North West are the only 2 provinces which have had a decline in cases since last year. The Independent Police Investigative Directorate remains concerned about the number of complaints received by the public, the excessive use of force and physical abuse by the police.
The joint Committee raised concern that the presentation failed to provide information to assist members in their deliberations in holding the police accountable during the lockdown. Members raised concern that it failed to include the list of reported cases, those cases which have been investigated, how many cases are finalised and the outcome of those finalised cases. It also failed to provide actions and measures taken, yearly comparisons of cases and processes that have been followed. Members raised concern that it failed to focus on the Covid-19 lockdown period adequately. Other concerns raised was the implications that Covid-19 will have on the budget and performance targets, the time period it takes to receive a post-mortem report, whether senior investigators are available to work, when the Executive Director and other vacant posts will be filled and for an update to be provided on the investigations into special closures. Members also raised concern on the Miggels case, the excessive number of complaints against the police, the backlog of cases and the level of cooperation between the South African Police Service and the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.
The Independent Police Investigative Directorate was asked to provide members with a detailed report that focuses on Covid-19 related cases. It was agreed that written responses will be provided on questions raised by members.
Co-Chairperson Shaikh welcomed members of the Committee and the Ministry to the joint meeting. Members received 3 documents containing the Minister’s responses to questions raised. She asked if members had any other questions to raise before the Minister goes through the responses.
Mr G Michalakis (DA; Free State) said he has submitted questions in written form and asked if he may repeat them. Has the South African Police Service (SAPS) found it impossible in some places to fulfil its mandate of enforcing the regulations due to a shortage of resources, particularly vehicles? If so, which places are these? How are these obstacles being overcome? Members heard about inmates that were released a few days ago. What steps has the SAPS taken to ensure that the release of these inmates from overcrowded prisons does not result in recurring crimes during the lockdown? On fines issued to individuals in contravention of the lockdown guidelines, is there a standard guideline for the amount of the fine or is it left to the discretion of the police officer? What would be the Minister’s advice to a citizen who has been issued with a fine for something that’s not an offence in terms of the lockdown guidelines? Have the SAPS received any reports of bribes during the lockdown? What are the circumstances where such bribes are solicited? What are the actions taken and the current hotspots for the occurrence of such bribes?
Ms M Mmola (ANC; Mpumalanga) asked if members of the SAPS are screened every day before going to work. Do you have enough personal protective equipment (PPE)? Many police members are being infected with Covid-19. How far are you with the case of Senzo Meyiwa?
Gen Bheki Cele, Minister of Police, greeted everyone in attendance and responded to the questions. On the release of crime statistics, the Ministry has already initiated the process to release police records of crime statistics on a quarterly basis. The police has proceeded with the adoption of the advanced release calendar which proposes quarterly dates. The calendar will be published on the SAPS website at the beginning of each financial year. The release of quarterly crime statistics will become a norm in accordance with the Cabinet resolution in 2016. The Ministry is in the process of activating this resolution. On police training, it includes ethical behaviour and compliance with the code of conduct. Unfortunately, some members tend to behave in another way. In such circumstances, discipline management, both punitive and progressive, is applied to address the challenge. Where training is seen as a shortcoming the necessary intervention is prioritised. On the issue of blasphemy, the 3 people who were arrested all have the name Mohammed. The police member asked whether the arrestees thought they, and not Prophet Mohammed, were bigger than the President. The member has been cleared because he did not refer to Prophet Mohammed.
Minister Cele replied that the Minister and the National Commissioner of Police’s spokespersons were the only 2 people that were allowed to make communications. No information is volunteered to the media house. The stories are selected by the television stations and neither spokesperson has any influence on the selection of the stories chosen by the media. The articles referring to Reverends’ being arrested and shown on television are selected by the media and not the Department of Police (DoP). On gender-based violence (GBV), the statistics in the presentation speak to domestic violence cases. The rationale of using this concept instead of GBV is because people who have some kind of domestic relationship are prone to experience tension as a result of the lockdown. The Department of Social Development (DSD) is the custodian of the GBV Command Centre statistics and not the police. The cases against police members include driving a police vehicle without prior permission, murder, common assault, defeating the ends of justice, theft, corruption, rape, reckless driving, kidnapping and drunken driving. These are the sort of cases that police members are arrested and charged for. Police vehicles are disinfected and members who use the vehicles are given gloves and masks. Where an offender has been transported, the vehicle will be sanitized again when it arrives at the police station. Police members have been trained on how to sanitize the vehicles.
Minister Cele explained that members of the SAPS are monitored by the management of police stations, clusters, senior managers from the provinces, the inspectorate and the internal audit structure. Members are trained through various workshops. This training includes understanding Covid-19, protocols for the management of Covid-19, prevention and protection measures, requirements and uses of resources including PPE’s for the prevention of Covid-19, sanitization and decontamination of building offices and medical waste disposal. The management of the SAPS is equally concerned with the rise in numbers of infected police officers. The National Steering Committee (NSC) was established for the containment and management of Covid-19 cases. The NSC developed protocols so that police members are screened on a daily basis when they report for work. This is in line with the Department of Health protocols who conduct the screening of police members. After screening, testing is done immediately and members are placed in quarantine. In confirmed positive cases, the families of members are referred to screening, testing and ultimately get quarantined or isolated. All members that were in contact with a positive member get tested and sent to quarantine immediately followed by the decontamination of the work place. Up until this morning there are 253 confirmed positive cases in the SAPS. 178 of them are in the Western Cape.
Co-Chairperson Shaikh asked the Minister to respond to the verbal questions raised today.
Minister Cele replied the SAPS is given information and is allowed to make an input so it understands the issue of releasing inmates. Before they are released, police members will have better information to trace them. On the shortage of resources, this was a challenge before Covid-19. The pandemic put an extra strain on resources and this is a challenge across the board. This includes vehicles. Vehicles will take longer to get back to the police station or to a point where an offender is being collected because the vehicles have to be sanitized. SAPS would like to have more vehicles under Covid-19 but that is a general approach to have better resources, including other equipment, going forward. On the sufficiency of PPE’s, up to this point the SAPS is fine in all police stations when it comes to sanitizers, masks and gloves. It keeps adding more because most of them are disposable. It has struggled to find disposable overalls because the company defaulted badly as well as boot covers. On bribes, there are quite a few of these incidents. Those who have solicited bribes have been arrested and will be flushed out of the system. There was one young female warrant officer in Newcastle who refused a bribe of R10 000 in cash and arrested the person. On screening, this is done almost every day before members go to work. On the Senzo Meyiwa case, the National Commissioner will respond to this.
Co-Chairperson Shaikh asked members to raise follow-up questions.
Mr A Emam (NFP) said he is not satisfied with the Minister’s response on the blasphemy issue. Members viewed and saw what happened. There are currently police members who have been taken to court for closing down businesses and arresting shop owners throughout KwaZulu-Natal. There are about 25 court orders issued against police members. People are complying with the regulations and possess the necessary permits to conduct their businesses. Can the Minister explain the conduct of police members against people who are complying with the regulations?
Mr O Terblanche (DA) said he is concerned about the huge number of complaints of police brutality and heavy-handedness. Members have already raised this issue but apparently there is no improvement. What can be done?
Ms Mmola asked for the National Commissioner to respond to the question on Senzo Meyiwa.
Mr H Shembeni (EFF) asked for a response on the smuggling of illegal cigarettes and alcohol from neighbouring countries. On the effectiveness of police members deployed from the provincial offices during the lockdown, are these members able to take down statements as required and are they able to go and testify in courts as needed?
Minister Cele replied that there are regulations that SAPS members need to implement. When individual members of the public report to Committee members, I hope they are giving the whole story. There is no reason why those shop owners and businesses are being arrested. The police would not arrest someone who is acting lawfully. The regulations might not have been understood by business people and shop owners on the ground. A common issue with medium and small businesses such as spaza shops and small supermarkets is the serious breaking of the law when it comes to selling meat. The meat is rotten, long expired, there are no dates and no indication of whether you are buying beef or donkey meat. This is a definite breaking of the law. Those owners are arrested and their stock is confiscated. Other issues with supermarkets is that they continued to sell prepared food when they were not supposed to. There are also shops that are overloaded and people not maintaining social distance. People are only arrested for these kinds of things. Where the police are wrong, break the law themselves and are heavy-handed, action is taken against them.
Minister Cele reiterated the incident of blasphemy was not on the basis of Prophet Mohammed. The police member arrested 3 Mohammed’s that day. The comment by the police member referred to the alleged Mohammed who organised the illegal gathering event and not Prophet Mohammed. The offenders have appeared in court, received bail and will appear again in August. On the heavy-handedness of police members, for some reason members get over-excited but many members do their job right and according to the book. The SAPS is an institution that is highly overseen. This oversight is performed by the Portfolio Committee on Police, Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), human rights organisations and internal oversight structures. There was an incident that happened earlier this week where the police found someone who broke the law because alcohol was found inside the car. The police asked him to go to the van but he refused so the police had to handle him and put him in the van. Then he turns around and says the police are breaking the law because they are not maintaining social distance and are being heavy-handed. Members of the public can be provocative towards the police. There are no structures that check whether the public is being provocative and offensive towards law enforcers. Law enforcers are monitored and reprimanded but nobody reprimands the public community.
Minister Cele said in the initial stages of the pandemic, the National Commissioner, Deputy Minister and himself moved around to all of the provinces. The provinces were reminded that policing must be done under the culture of human rights and constitutionality. SAPS members were reminded to behave as such and use the law when policing. When under attack, the police are given the responsibility to defend themselves and defend innocent members who are also under attack. They are allowed to use a proportional force to affect the arrest. The police are reminded of this all the time. On smuggling, the police have information on this and have made a lot of arrests not only at the border but also internally. The police have discovered that people who claim they are going to a funeral have coffins filled with dagga. In some incidents, the police find coffins that are filled with alcohol. This has caused a serious challenge to the police because they have to open the coffins and it puts members in danger of getting infected. On the border level, there have been arrests and confiscations of alcohol and cigarettes. This information can be provided to the Committee. The police members who are deployed are effective and do their job and that’s why they are sent to the field.
Mr S Zandamela (EFF; Mpumalanga) said a police station in Mpumalanga arrested about 200 people trying to cross the border. At least 2 of them have signs of Covid-19 but the police station wants to release all of them. Can the Minister take this matter up?
Minister Cele replied that he will speak to the Department of Health and the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) to deal with the matter especially if some of the people are foreign nationals.
Co-Chairperson Shaikh commended the police for selflessly putting their lives on the line while they work on the frontlines. She asked the Minister to make opening remarks before the presentation by IPID begins.
Minister Cele said the issue of language must be clarified going forward. In most of the cases it states that murders or actions have been committed by the police but it doesn’t include the word “alleged”. The problem is that the media picks this up and the information is only corrected the next day. The finality of the case must first be reached before the police member is defined as guilty. No one is just caught and immediately found guilty. The police must also be subjected to the law and remain innocent until proven guilty. On the discharge of firearms, most of these cases happen when there are protests and the police use rubber bullets. Members of the Committee have requested daily updates on the police and IPID. There is a long list of cases that are sent to the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) but there is also a long list of cases declined by the prosecution. There needs to be a fair report that doesn’t only emphasize the number of cases submitted to the prosecution but includes those that are not prosecuted. There are good police officers out there. The SAPS and IPID will work together to get rid of the bad ones.
Briefing by IPID
Mr Patrick Setshedi, Acting Executive Director, IPID, greeted members and introduced his delegation.
Mr Thuso Keafelakae, Acting Chief Director: Investigations, IPID, said the total case intake from 26 March to 5 May 2020 is 828. Not all of the crimes were committed during the lockdown period. Out of the 828 cases received, 376 cases related to Covid-19 operations. These cases include assault, corruption, death as a result of police action and discharge of an official firearm. Out of the 828 cases, 16 were related to GBV. Gauteng and the North West are the only 2 provinces which have had a decline in cases since last year. When IPID receives matters from the police, it responds to the crime scene, takes over the investigation of an alleged incident and then at a later stage it is revealed whether the death was caused by police action. IPID is concerned about the complaints received by the public, the excessive use of force and physical abuse by the police.
Co-Chairperson Shaikh asked members to raise questions.
Ms J Mofokeng (ANC) asked how many senior investigators are still available. She also asked for clarity about the senior investigator that was murdered. How many people are suspended in the Department? The presentation states that 828 cases were reported but the dates in the presentation are confusing. What is actually reported here and what cases relate to the lockdown period? How far have they been dealt with? On the case of rape, has this person been to court? On the cases of death in the Western Cape, Vosloorus and Lenasia, how long does it take for IPID to receive the post-mortem reports? How far are these outstanding cases?
Mr A Whitfield (DA) noted the Miggels case. From the reporting that members have seen, it appears to have absolved the police member from any wrongdoing. It has also been reported that the case has been closed by IPID. Has the case in fact been closed? Does IPID believe that it is possible to suffer a heart attack due to police abuse or assault? Was the police officer in fact investigated for the allegation of assault? Last year the Portfolio Committee on Police received a preliminary report dealing with special closures. The Committee has not received any further report on the internal investigations by IPID into special closures. Can members receive an update on this?
Mr Terblanche said he is disappointed with the presentation because it merely contains statistics. It doesn’t indicate the specific role of IPID and what it has done. The number of people who have died in police custody or due to police action is 50. It’s interesting to compare that with the total number of people who have died from Covid-19 which is 148. Members cannot allow people to be killed by the people in this number. What does the Minister intend to do about this?
Ms Mmola said there are a lot of Acting positions in IPID. Are these posts vacant? Minister, when are you going to appoint the Executive Director? On the 828 reported cases, are these cases during the lockdown? Are they being investigated? Community members are reporting cases. Is IPID naming these members or are they put in one umbrella?
Mr Emam said the number of complaints lodged against police members appears to be about the same whether it’s before or during the lockdown. What is the percentage of police members that are normally found guilty? What is the cost for the state when complaints are lodged against it? Do you not think the number of complaints are excessive? What is the global norm? On GBV, are you continuing with the assessment of wellness programmes to be able to identify challenges the police might be facing? This should be done instead of getting complaints from spouses after the fact.
Ms Z Majozi (IFP) said the statistics are concerning. There are only 2 provinces where there is no increase. What is IPID doing at this present moment? Are they trying to bring in former investigators to make sure they get all the help they need? The presentation is missing IPID’s action plans to reduce the statistics. What is going to happen? What can members expect? Community members are going to get angry if there is no proper way of dealing with reducing the statistics.
Mr K Maphatsoe (ANC) said it is difficult to engage with the report because it is not conclusive. The report contains outstanding investigations. How do members engage with a report that is inconclusive? What are the levels of cooperation between the SAPS management and IPID in processing complaints against the police during the lockdown?
Mr P Groenewald (FF+) said in a previous meeting, members received a submission from IPID which stated the total intake of Covid-19 related cases as 403 for the period of 26 March to 17 April. The presentation today states that the total intake cases is 376 for the period of 26 March to 5 May. Why is there a discrepancy in the figures? How can it be that there were 403 cases in the shorter period and there are only 376 in the extended period?
Mr Shembeni asked whether IPID is working with the military ombudsman to share information to investigate all the alleged instances of abuse by members of police, military and the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). What is the implication of Covid-19 on the budget and performance targets of the 2020/21 financial year?
Ms N Peacock (ANC) asked how far the Minister is with the appointment of the Executive Director. When the presentation was made, some of the cases were not reported to IPID by the police. What mechanism is used in order to know if cases are reported? Not all community members understand the process of reporting cases online so most of them go to police stations. If the cases are not being reported to IPID by the police, how sure can members be that the presentation includes all the reported cases on hand?
Mr E Mthethwa (ANC; KwaZulu-Natal) asked what the stage is of the backlog of cases that are not being processed during the lockdown period.
Ms Z Faku (ANC) said members expected IPID to deliver a presentation focusing on Covid-19 with proper feedback. IPID must come back to members with a report that focuses on the lockdown, what processes will be followed and the urgency in resolving those cases. What is the implication of Covid-19 on the budget and performance targets?
Mr A Gxoyiya (ANC; Northern Cape) said members have been given statistics but the expectation is to provide a report with the list of reported cases and those which have been investigated. Out of the investigations, how many are finalised and what are the outcomes of those finalised cases? The report should provide actions taken on the outcomes of those cases and the measures taken to reduce any eventualities. As the Minister has already said, when a person reads this report they will take the reported cases as finalised and this might be a distortion of reality. The information provided by IPID must assist members to see where the wrongdoings are. If a case has not yet been investigated, members can’t read it as being final. The report states 21 cases of people who have allegedly died in police custody but the narrative only speaks to 10 cases. What about the other 11 cases? It’s unfair to make a comparison with last year only without looking at the other years. Was there a decline or increase of cases from 2018 to 2019? IPID must provide this information so that members can have informed deliberations and hold the police accountable.
Co-Chairperson Shaikh said the report is confusing because the yearly comparison creates other problems. If the report focused specifically on Covid-19 related matters, members would have received the necessary details required for the meeting.
Minister Cele replied that it is difficult to present matters that are not yet concluded. In the one slide of the presentation it says there are 18 deaths in police custody but the next slide it says 0 deaths in police custody. It will be helpful to know whether these cases have been investigated. What can members do with cases that are still being determined? On deaths as a result of police action, the one slide states there are 32 cases but the next slide states there are 10 cases. What happened to the others? The report doesn’t provide members with a good picture on what to do with the police. IPID should have focused on Covid-19. On the appointment of the Executive Director, the processes were underway but were delayed by the lockdown. The names are ready but the interviews still need to be done. The Ministry needs to find out whether the interview processes can proceed. It has requested extra time from the Speaker to work under the present conditions.
Mr Setshedi replied that IPID has details on each and every received case. These details, including how far the cases have gone, can be provided to members in writing. IPID currently has 156 investigators in various provinces who are available and doing the work. Only 1 person has been suspended, the Head of Investigations, due to recommendations made by the Office of the Auditor-General in the 2018/19 audit. The impact of Covid-19 on the budget and performance plan will be provided in detail next week. On the cases that IPID has received, all of them are being investigated, both normal cases and Covid-19 related cases. The normal cases can’t be put aside to only focus on the Covid-19 related ones. The 828 cases are all under investigation at various levels. On the cases in Lenasia and Vosloorus, the provincial Head for Gauteng will provide specific details on it. The turnaround time of post-mortem reports is one of the major problems that affects the investigations. Under normal circumstances, the post-mortem is conducted on the same day of the incident or the following day but it takes time to receive the reports from the pathologies. On the military ombudsman, there has been no specific case that requires a relationship and engagement. IPID has been doing its job independently. The only time IPID had to work with the military ombudsman was on the Khosa case which is currently before court. This issue needs to be looked at going forward.
Co-Chairperson Shaikh said it’s important for members to be provided with a report on the Covid-19 related cases. The Committee expects written responses to all of the questions raised.
Co-Chairperson Joemat-Pettersson thanked the Minister and the team for the presentation. This is a new norm so the presentations have to be managed differently. They can’t be presented as they were in the past. The Minister is thanked for his presentation that provided members with the most relevant and updated information. Members respect and appreciate that. Every allegation must be thoroughly investigated and members have been assured that cases will not be closed prematurely. Members do not expect details to be provided on cases that are still ongoing because it would interfere with the processes of the investigation. Members are thanked for their input and solid contributions.
Minister Cele asked if the next report must contain Covid-19 related information separate from the normal reporting.
Co-Chairperson Shaikh replied this meeting was to deal with Covid-19 specifically. Members still want a cleaned up presentation and written responses on it. Next week there will be an engagement on the budget and performance plan.
The meeting was adjourned.