Cops ignore ‘don’t shoot’ directive

2012-08-19 10:00
Jacques Dommisse
Only two weeks ago, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said he preferred the police to use water cannons to control protesters ­instead of rubber bullets.

This week Mthethwa and national police commissioner General Riah Phiyega defended the violent reaction of police at Lonmin’s ­Marikana mine in North West.

Police used live ammunition, rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades against thousands of striking Lonmin employees.

In the massacre, 34 workers were killed.

But a police memo dated December 2011 prohibits police from ­using even rubber bullets.

“Less lethal methods to manage crowds must be implemented. Negotiations are still the first resort. A gradual response such as the use of pyrotechnics, water cannons and the 40mm launcher must then be used,” the document reads.

“The purpose of offensive actions must be to de-escalate conflict with the minimum level of force to accomplish the goal. The degree of force must be proportional to the seriousness of the situation and the threat posed in terms of situational appropriateness,” says the memo.

“The use of force must always be reasonable in the circumstances and force must be discontinued once the objective has been achieved.”

Johan Burger from the Institute for Security Studies said as far as he was aware, these instructions still stood.

“What I do know is that something must have changed ­because the police have been using rubber bullets and shotguns again for some time.”

Burger referred to Mthethwa’s statement of two weeks ago recommending the use of water cannons.

“Unfortunately, the minister did not take into account the fact that there are only 10 water cannons in the country and each year more than 10 000 incidents of crowdcontrol occur,” he said.

“I support the use of rubber bullets because the police then have more options regarding non-lethal violence, of course if it is used correctly, and not like in Ficksburg,” he said.

The Institute for Democracy in Africa’s Paul Graham said after 1994 there was an emphasis on training the police to control crowds using less lethal methods.

“This seems all to have gone out the window. There is a real problem with training and procedures. Even the special task force of the police which was present at the shooting seems to lack specific procedures,” he said.

“The order you are referring to implies there is still a huge amount of confusion in the police on crowdcontrol issues,” Graham said.

Police ministry spokespersonZweli Mnisi said the ministry had reviewed public order policing to ensure that public protests were “effectively managed, with clear guidelines to the police”.

“This should not be misunderstood to imply that armed people should attack police and that ­police would not defend themselves. As much as it is the responsibility of police to manage such protests within the framework of the law, the responsibility of protesters is equally important.

“That is what our Constitution speaks of; the rights of citizens to express their grievances in an orderly, peaceful and mature manner.

"Nowhere in the Constitution does it stipulate that people must burn property, intimidate those citizens who wish not to partake in a protest, and even kill police and innocent citizens, yet disguise and justify such actions behind a banner of protesting.”

He declined to comment further on the Marikana incident, saying they would respect the commission of inquiry announced by President Jacob Zuma on Friday.

“Less lethal methods to manage crowds must be implemented. Negotiations are still the first resort. A gradual response such as the use of pyrotechnics, water cannons and the 40mm launcher must then be used,” the document reads.

“The purpose of offensive actions must be to de-escalate conflict with the minimum level of force to accomplish the goal. The degree of force must be proportional to the seriousness of the situation and the threat posed in terms of situational appropriateness,” says the memo.

“The use of force must always be reasonable in the circumstances and force must be discontinued once the objective has been achieved.”

Johan Burger of the Institute for Security Studies said as far as he was aware these instructions still stood.

“What I do know is that something must have changed now because the police are already working for some time using rubber bullets and shotguns again,” he said.

Burger referred to Mthethwa’s statement of two weeks ago, recommending the use of water cannons.

“Unfortunately the minister did not take into account the fact that there are only ten water cannons in the country and each year more than 10 000 incidents of crowdcontrol occur,” he said.

“I support the use of rubber bullets, because the police then have more options regarding non-lethal violence, of course, if it is used correctly, and not like in Ficksburg,” he said.

Idasa’s Paul Graham said after 1994 there was an emphasis on training the police to control crowds and use less lethal methods.

“This seems to have all gone out of the back window. There is a real problem with training and procedures. Even the special task force of the police which was present at the shooting seems to lack specific procedures,” he said.

“The order you are revering to implies that there is still a huge amount of confusion amongst the police on crowdcontrol issues,” Graham said.

Police ministry spokesman Zweli Mnisi said the ministry had reviewed public order policing to ensure that public protests were ”effectively managed, with clear guidelines to the police”.

“This should not be misunderstood to imply that armed people should attack police and that police would not defend themselves. As much as it is the responsibility of police to manage such protests within the framework of the law, the responsibility of protesters is equally important,” he said.

“That is what our Constitution speaks of; that is, rights of citizens to express their grievances in an orderly, peaceful and mature manner.

"Nowhere in the Constitution does it stipulate that people must burn property, intimidate those citizens who wish not to partake in a protest and even killing police and innocent citizens; yet disguise and justify such actions behind a banner of protesting.”

He declined to comment further on the the Marikana incident saying they would respect the commission of inquiry announced by President Jacob Zuma on Friday.