We live in a police state. I apologise for shattering your (hopefully) pleasant Sunday evening. But there is unfortunately no other way to slice it. Regardless of which lens you choose to view it through, the facts (and numbers) speak for themselves.
Eleven times more lockdown arrests than Covid cases
The SAPS have arrested 230 000 South Africans for so-called “lockdown violations”. As of 22 May, there were 19 137 COVID-19 cases (and 392 deaths) in South Africa in total. This means the police have literally arrested 11 times more people than there are COVID cases. And 586 (five hundred and eighty-six!) times more people than have died from the virus.
To make things even worse, there were 12 868 cases of contact crime reported during the lockdown. Now, please note: these are reports, not arrests. This means the SAPS have arrested 18 times more people for “lockdown violations” than reported contact crimes.
Of course it doesn’t stop there. During the 2018/19 year, the SAPS made a grand total of 1 501 402 arrests. That is for all crimes. Thus the amount of people arrested for “lockdown violations” account for more than 15% of total arrests performed in 2018/19.
The Police State criminalises innocent citizens
I hope I don’t have to point out how outrageously disproportionate this is. Our police service (whether or not they even still deserve that title is highly debatable) is making an enemy out of the public. They are unjustifiably criminalising a massive swathe of the citizenry for what amounts to be incredibly petty offences. Such as “standing still” during the morning exercise window. Or a father running after his child who crossed the street. Or people walking on the beach.
This is alarming. It is the excessive abuse of power that one finds in a police state. Not a liberal democracy where law enforcement officers are the servants of the public. Instead the public finds itself oppressed by the very organs of state tasked with protecting it.
The Police State chases soft targets, not real criminals
Unfortunately when it comes to going after real criminals, the police are far less enthusiastic and determined. Now, I apologise to the few good and dedicated officials still left in the service. I know you are tirelessly doing your best under highly adverse circumstances. So what I am about to say doesn’t apply to you. With that disclaimer out of the way, it appears to me that an overwhelming spirit of institutionalised cowardice, laziness, and incompetence is the hallmark of South African law enforcement.
It is very easy to manhandle, abuse, and terrorise a young woman out jogging, or an old gogo selling achar. But it is a different story if your intended target is a hardened and dangerous criminal armed to the teeth. Perhaps that is why the police would rather arrest 18 times more soft victims than hard targets. And why our arrest and conviction rates for serious crimes is pathetically low. This is, of course, utterly disgraceful and wholly disgusting. As citizens and tax-payers we certainly deserve much, much better.
Murder, assault, and child abuse at the hands of the Police State
What we don’t deserve, is our law enforcement officials manhandling a toddler like he is a criminal. That is, in fact, child abuse. Which is a criminal offence. We also don’t deserve police and soldiers barging into homes and murdering innocent citizens on a whim. As they did to Collins Khosa and Sibusiso Amos.
Our courts fortunately take a very dim view of such abuses. In the Khosa case, the North Gauteng High Court ripped the SANDF and SAPS apart. Judge Hans Fabricius stated that the language used by the SANDF “explicitly targeted” the local people as “threats or obstacles” to the military objective of combating Covid-19, with the implication that such threats had to be “neutralised”.
“Don’t shoot people”
In response to this, the SANDF cobbled together a document instructing soldiers as follows: “Don’t shoot people”. Now, you may consider me uncharitable for not being impressed by this. If that is the case, I invite you to please obtain higher standards. And quickly. If our soldiers, whom are now employed on South African soil and tasked with upholding the SANDF’s constitutional mandate, don’t thoroughly understand that they are not supposed to shoot and murder citizens, then what are such knuckle-dragging buffoons doing in uniform in the first place?
Equally outrageous and disgusting, is our Minister of Police stating that he will comply with 95% of the Khosa judgement, but will “appeal some areas”. Cele has always been an arrogant, tone-deaf and oafish dictator. But his unrestrained kragdadigheid and hubris when ordered by the court to comply is a dangerous threat to our democracy. The minister doesn’t have the discretion to decide what parts of the law he wants the SAPS to comply with. That he acts like he does infers that he sees himself (and his department) as above the law.
It therefore shouldn’t be surprising that Cele himself stands accused of flaunting the very lockdown regulations he so brutally forces unto the rest of us.
Bheki Cele and his SAPS are not alone in treating the law and courts with contempt. The SANDF stated that the North Gauteng High Court has no business in adjudicating a matter where soldiers are accused of murdering a citizen. If this doesn’t paint a clear picture that the authorities believe themselves to be above the law, I don’t know what does. That the SANDF sees themselves as entirely immune from prosecution or accountability is a horrifying and enraging revelation. And something that far too few people have become concerned and angry about.
There should be many unlawful arrest lawsuits
Returning to the topic of lockdown arrests – a great many of these are, of course, unlawful. The NPA has already declined to prosecute around 25% of lockdown cases. I also have it on good authority that well over 90% of all lockdown arrests may very likely be unlawful. If that is indeed true, and at an average damages payout of R35 000 for an unlawful arrest, the SAPS can find itself held liable for around R7-billion. That’s 7% of the R100-billion annual SAPS budget. And it doesn’t include costs, punitive or otherwise.
Now, this may not be enough to bankrupt the SAPS. But it certainly has the potential to do so. It also begs the question that if the police behave so criminally and reprehensibly that their continued existence is threatened due to lawsuits, does the SAPS have any legitimacy left at all? We have for a long time called for government to urgently reform the SAPS.
It is at present highly doubtful that the SAPS can still be saved. The organisation is sick, and plagued with institutionalised criminality and corruption. We should close the SAPS down entirely. And replace it with a system of decentralised policing similar to Switzerland’s Cantonal Police. Or even the United States’ County Sheriff’s Departments.
We need to make the police directly accountability to the communities they serve. And we must bring an end to this brutal and murderous police state.
Written by Gideon Joubert
Gideon is the owner and editor of Paratus