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SAHRC Unrest Hearing: Police response wasn’t vigorous enough and didn’t take July unrest seriously - ISS

DAVID Bruce from the Institute for Security Studies giving evidence at the National Investigative Hearing on the July 2021 Unrest. | SAHRC -Facebook

DAVID Bruce from the Institute for Security Studies giving evidence at the National Investigative Hearing on the July 2021 Unrest. | SAHRC -Facebook

Published Dec 3, 2021

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DURBAN - David Bruce of the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) told the South African Human Rights Commission that the police response to the July unrest was perceived to be not vigorous enough and they did not take it seriously.

The SAHRC’s national investigative hearing heard testimony from survivors, various community members, as well as industry players in commerce and private security.

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Bruce is a researcher in field of policing and public security. He said shortcomings and the reason why the country failed began with President Cyril Ramaphosa and his appointment of ministers.

He said the country had a situation where an assault against the state emerged from within the ranks of the ruling party, or people associated with it.

“To the best of our knowledge that is the correct characterisation. It seems inherently problematic for our country (when) these type of threats, to the security of the state, emerge from within the governing party.”

Bruce added that it posed a conundrum, adding that the politicisation of security services should be minimised. He said it would have required that the intelligence agencies focus their scrutiny on elements within or linked to the governing party.

“It is inevitable that it takes them into a situation where they face questions about whether they are being politically used, and whether there is some kind of preference or favouritism that has been applied by them.

“The violence outstripped the police’s capacity to respond. Calls for more public order police may be neither possible nor desirable given the country’s current crime context and the government's budgetary constraints.”

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Bruce asked if the country needed public order policing when people in the protests were generally poor. He said rather than increasing public order police personnel and units, the government should focus on three issues.

These included an improved command model for large and complex operations. Operational commanders with specialised training for better policing tactics would also help, considering the limited effectiveness of firing rubber bullets at looters.

Third, in the event of large-scale public violence, it should be assumed that the military would be mobilised.

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UPL Cornubia Fire Civil Society Action Group members Professor Rajen Naidoo and Kwanele Msizazwe spoke of the impact the UPL South Africa factory fire had.

Msizazwe is also a community leader at the Blackburn Village informal settlement situated near the factory.

“We saw the water and our crops and the river sand change colour near a food garden near the settlement. Those farming were told to keep away. Environmental groups arrived and took samples from the area. Warning boards were erected to warn us not to go near the river,” he added.

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