There have been a number of current occasions during which extreme pressure has been utilized by public order models of the SAPS to disperse crowds. We have to implement the teachings of Marikana — danger administration is an important technique in profitable public order policing.
Final month’s use of a water cannon to disperse recipients queuing for his or her Covid-19 social reduction grants in Bellville, Cape City, raises a number of key points across the ongoing misuse of less-lethal tools by SAPS. Among the many many questions that come to thoughts is the extent to which correct danger identification and mitigation methods had been recognized and employed previous this use of pressure.
Within the Bellville case, the police ought to have been conscious that the scenario was unstable. Due to Covid-19 bodily distancing guidelines and the unfavourable affect of the South African Social Safety Company’s (Sassa) erratic determination making on entry to social grants, grant queues had turn into time-consuming and distressing affairs. On this occasion, lots of these within the queue on the Bellville Sassa places of work on 15 January 2021 had been looking for reinstatement of their momentary incapacity grants. Nerves had been frayed by panic, by worry of shedding their place within the queue. Anxiousness over whether or not they would truly obtain any cash was additionally a difficulty — in the end a query of whether or not they would be capable to put any meals on their very own tables.
Significant pre-planning between the police and Sassa appears to have been absent. On the day itself, communication by the authorities, a key aspect of crowd administration, appeared non-existent. In keeping with a journalist, the minister of social growth was heard interesting from inside a police armoured car to the gang to maintain their distance whereas they had been being pressured collectively by the jets of water.
Threat administration is an important technique in profitable public order policing. Deploying the precept of precaution to determine potential hurt and to place in place methods for managing these can forestall or minimise using weapons. Whether or not mitigation methods had been used, and an effort made to keep away from the pointless use of pressure, ought to function the important aspect in assessing the legality of using pressure. This take a look at stands alongside our extra conventional understanding of the authorized take a look at of legitimacy, proportionality and necessity.
Sadly, this was not an remoted incident. Lower than two weeks later, and in full hindsight of those occasions, police used pepper spray on a crowd queuing exterior an East London publish workplace ready for distribution of the Covid-19 social reduction of misery grant. Once more, Sassa had introduced at quick discover the termination of the grant and inevitably an anxious crowd of grantees, a few of whom had travelled for kilometres, started to line up exterior the distribution workplace.
There gave the impression to be no efficient crowd-management strategies deployed by the police, at the side of the distribution company, to allow safely distanced queuing. Added to this, using pepper spray carries a number of dangers which don’t appear to have been acknowledged by the police. Pepper spray, when used in opposition to a crowd, is in impact an indiscriminate weapon. It additionally has doubtlessly extreme adversarial well being penalties.
Along with the incidents described above, the persistent misuse of rubber bullets additional demonstrates the urgency of the necessity for reforms. This weapon beneath legislation and laws is permitted to be fired solely “in excessive circumstances if much less forceful strategies have confirmed ineffective”. Nonetheless, it repeatedly seems that the police depend on rubber bullets (that are inaccurate and have a poor security file) as the primary possibility, with none utility of the precept of precaution.
This was strongly evident in March and April 2020, within the preliminary weeks of lockdown measures, and strongly evident once more within the incident in late January 2021 during which 9 younger males, known as land occupiers, had been shot by the police with rubber bullets, with no less than two of them critically injured by direct and close-range photographs to the higher physique and face.
In his 2021 State of the Nation Handle, President Cyril Ramaphosa clearly articulated the intention of his authorities to forcefully deal with what’s seen as against the law of land invasion. Consequently, it’s doubtless we’ll witness an escalation in policing responses to land occupations. Until we spend money on growing important components to a profitable rights-based method to public order policing, resembling correct planning and risk-mitigation methods round using pressure, these incidents will proceed to repeat themselves.
We do have a place to begin. Two years in the past a panel of specialists, appointed to look at public order policing in South Africa after the Marikana Bloodbath, tabled their report earlier than the minister of police. Regardless of South Africans now being made to think about far-reaching amendments to the SAPS laws and the Regulation of Gatherings Act within the amendments introduced on the finish of 2021, this essential report stays in impact embargoed. DM
Sean Tait is Director of the African Policing Civilian Oversight Discussion board (APCOF) and Dr Mary Rayner is a Analysis Affiliate on the College of London. This text stems from their work with the Evaluation Group of the C19 Peoples’ Coalition Anti-Repression Working Group.