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…justice is blowing in the wind

The police and public watchdog institutions are increasingly unwilling to hold government accountable and to protect the constitutional rights of citizens.

“How many times can a man turn his head pretending he just doesn't see?
How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry?
How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?
The answer my friend is blowing in the wind…” - Bob Dylan

In terms of the South African Police Service Act it is the constitutional obligation of the SAPS to: ensure the safety and security of all persons and property; to uphold and safeguard everyone's fundamental constitutional rights; and to ensure co-operation between the SAPS and communities to combat crime.

It is the duty of the Independent Policing Investigative Directorate (IPID) to investigate instances in which such obligations are contravened. Because the state has failed to provide the IPID with sufficient powers to take conclusive action against officers found guilty of such contraventions, disciplinary action still rests with the SAPS. To date, the SAPS have utterly failed to police police who break the law, or neglect their duties.

The IPID, the South African Human Rights Commission and the Public Protector have now all been requested to investigate various aspects of the unceasing violence at Glebelands Hostel that has, to date, left 25 people dead and displaced around 100 residents. In our failing state, however, Chapter 9 institutions are increasingly unable to hold government accountable and the constitutional rights of Glebelands' residents are a sick joke.

Three more incidents recently emphasized the urgency with which proper implementation of the rule of law is required to prevent further loss of life - a rule of law which must apply equally to the police and state representatives. But what will it take to achieve this?

On 12 April Lwazi* was shot at more than 18 times as he returned to his room in the early evening. Shortly before this at a community block meeting convened by Glebelands' killers, Lwazi had allegedly been informed that his public refusal to pay R50 protection money would cost him his life - a move that denied the thugs the almost R13,000 that is reportedly extorted monthly from block residents. The thugs control at least nine blocks. A case was opened at the Umlazi SAPS.

On 23 April, the killers struck again. This time they ambushed Lwazi in the kitchen, shot at him at pointblank range. Again he escaped. Lwazi is a respected traditional healer. Another docket was added to the heap of unsolved Glebelands cases. Later that night the killers were heard across the hostel chanting about their impending attack on Block P. Although this has not yet taken place, it is no doubt only a matter of time…

At around 10am on the following Saturday the killers returned. They drove boldly to Lwazi's block and announced their arrival with gunfire. Lwazi fled and called the police. He gave them a clear description of the men, their vehicles and their exact location.

I arrived at Glebelands shortly after 11h00 that day. On learning a crime was in progress I immediately contacted the cluster commander for assistance. He stated he would deploy Umlazi SAPS members immediately.

To cut short a repetitious tale of frustration, numerous calls to the cluster commander and acting station commissioner eventually forced the deployment of one police vehicle which, on arrival, parked comfortably in a patch of a shade at Block A opposite Lwazi's block. The thugs had, by that time, taken up permanent positions outside Lwazi's door and were awaiting his return with guns drawn. It was a hot day and observers reported that our frantic calls to the Umlazi SAPS duty officer had failed to entice the members from their vehicle to arrest the crime in progress. Several of us went to verify this astounding sight and photographs taken just before 1pm verified residents reports.

I learned later that the vehicle had reportedly retained its 'static deployment' until the thugs drove away - apparently in clear view of the officers - at around 15h15, nearly four hours after they had first arrived to evict or kill Lwazi. Our repeated efforts to force the police to fulfill their constitutional obligations had been in vain. Lwazi has now joined the many 'hunted' men who have been unlawfully evicted from their rooms, who dread shots in the darkness, fear shopping trips to nearby Umlazi MegaCity, and who are forced to endanger their lives just to go to work.

According to recent media reports, police units deployed last year to keep the peace were withdrawn after less than a month due to cost concerns. By comparison, how can the consistent failure in policing be justified against the cost in community suffering and loss of life? And how is it that after seven months the eThekwini Municipality has been unable to institute the hostel safety measures to which it committed last year, yet in just seven days it was able to implement a spectacular anti-xenophobia public relations extravaganza? How many more must die before the police enact their mandate without fear or favour?

* Vanessa Burger is a Dennis Brutus Community Scholar at the Centre for Civil Society based at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, a provincial member of the Democratic Left Front and Right2Know Campaign and works closely with organisations such as the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, uBunye Bamahostel, the Poor Flat Dwellers Movement and the KZN Violence Monitor.

At Glebelands Hostel, the answer is blowing in the wind.

*Lwazi's real name has been withheld to protect his identity.



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