To those oppressed by apartheid it was the policing arm of the state which was the most feared because of its brutality in implementing repression. Freedom Day in 1994 was supposed to usher in a new era in which police members would be the custodians of the constitution and its bill of rights, serving communities and ensuring their safety and security. Despite cosmetic attempts to deal with the massive problems the new government inherited, little changed and, eighteen years later, policing generally continues to deteriorate. Instead of protecting people too many police members are persecuting them, including when they open cases against criminal police members. To make matters worse, those tasked with managing the SAPS are failing to intervene and implement the rule of law. The current predicament of Thabiso Zulu of the Creighton area, illustrates the depths to which policing has sunk in KZN.
Thabiso Zulu : A background
In 1999 Zulu, a youth development worker, then in his matric year, together with a friend, passed on information about the presence of arms caches in the area to security agents (apparently connected to the newly established Scorpions). Instead of action being taken to remove the weapons and charge those implicated Zulu and his friend were exposed and harassed, leading to them fleeing the area for several months. When they later returned to their homes nothing had been done about the arms caches despite the fact that members of the SANDF based in the area, together with the police and members of the local Farmwatch regularly raided homes and assaulted people. Many residents, including Zulu, were obliged to sleep away from their homes in fear of these raids, which left at least one person – Basil Jaca – dead (after a rifle butt was pushed into his rectum). Zulu assisted people in obtaining medical treatment and opening cases, and was also instrumental in arranging for the then Deputy Minister of Defence, Nosizwe Madlala-Routlege, to visit deceased Jaca’s family. However, his community work, and fears for his own life, took a heavy personal and emotional toll on Zulu. By the end of 2000 – when KZN Monitor made further urgent appeals to the police – including to the then national commissioner – to deal with the anarchy the guns circulating in the area were linked to taxi violence.
The situation in the area has improved considerably in the past decade. Zulu, who has outstanding leadership abilities, has continued with his youth development and community work, including by organising anti-crime initiatives together with the police. He served two terms as the first regional secretary of the ANCYL, and is currently serving on the provincial interim leadership core of the Young Communist League.
The current predicament
During January 2012 the Tactical Response Team (TRT), established in 2009 by suspended national commissioner Bheki Cele, conducted operations in the Umzimkhulu/Creighton/Donnybrook/Himeville area falling under the Port Shepstone policing cluster. Using what seem to be their normal tactics members visited the licensed tavern run by Timothy Maduna on 12 January, assaulted Maduna and his patrons, and damaged tavern property. Zulu assisted Maduna to open a case (with some difficulty) at the local police station. There were also assaults on a number of other residents in these areas. Zulu was among those assaulted, apparently because he had complained to senior police members about TRT conduct. On 27 January he was assaulted for the second time in front of a crowd of people at a garage at Donnybrook. He recognised his assailants as being the same group who had previously assaulted him but they were not in uniform this time. He received medical attention. He then opened a case against the members. Despite requests to the Port Shepstone Cluster Commander to withdraw these members from the area they continued to harass people, and those who had opened cases received anonymous threatening phone calls.
Having received information from credible sources that his life was in danger, Zulu removed his wife and one year old son from their home, went into hiding himself, and paid someone to safeguard his property. After cases were opened identity parades should have taken place, but this process was constantly stalled by the police (e.g. refusing to supply the names of members on duty), despite appeals to management. The disappearance of incriminating CCTV footage was allegedly linked to the interference of a police member. The situation improved following the ICD (now IPID) taking over the cases in late February, but delaying tactics on the part of the police continued. On more than one occasion victims and witnesses were taken to Scottburgh for an ID parade to take place only to find that all the police members required for the parade had not been brought to the venue (wasting everyone’s time and money. Zulu received credible information that this delaying tactic was a deliberate attempt to sabotage the case.
While this process dragged on, Zulu remained in hiding, away from his wife and child. Then, on 16 March, there was a new, sinister development.
Enter self confessed armed robber Bruce Mhlongo
Zulu’s wife Thobile has continued with her job in a rural town. On 16 March, around lunch time, three men in plain clothes visited her place of work. Her colleagues informed them that she was on her lunch break. These men left a message stating that Bruce Mhlongo from Pietermaritzburg was looking for her, and that she should telephone him (he left a telephone number) for he and his companions would be waiting at the local police station (they were not there). Mrs Zulu left work early and spent the weekend at a safe home with her child.
Alleged police informer Bruce Mhlongo, who was very close to the lateRichmondleader Sifiso Nkabinde, as well as a policeman who was linked to the violence in that area, has a long association with violent crime. As well as having admitted to participating in an armed robbery in which two people died – he escaped justice through turning state witness – he was also implicated in the theft of rifles from the Pietermaritzburg Murder and Robbery Unit.
It has been confirmed that the telephone number left at Thobile’s work place is that of Mhlongo – which raises questions about (a)who deployed him and (b) what the intention was in calling on Thobile. Was harm intended – or was it hoped that this news would bring her husband out of hiding, to a possible death?
Holding the Minister, the MEC and SAPS management accountable
Zulu still in hiding. Both he and his wife are suffering emotionally and financially. He claims that his telephone is constantly interfered with – especially when he tries to talk to his wife – and his emails are hacked. This may well be true given media reports that police members often engage in illegal interception of communications. He has been told by informed sources that if he drops the case, and persuades others whom he assisted to open cases to also withdraw theirs, the threats and harassment will stop.
All this suffering is a consequence of his having exercised his fundamental right to open a case against criminal police who have assaulted him, and assisted others to do likewise. KZN Monitor has drawn this state of affairs to the attention of the national minister, the provincial MEC, the chair of the provincial legislature committee, and provincial, deputy provincial, and cluster commander management members, without any success (or even acknowledgement).
KZN Monitor believes that Zulu should be reunited with his wife and child, and that they should be able to live in their own home without fear of attack – and that it is the job of police management to ensure they are safe. Should Zulu decide to follow this course of action – and should any harm whatsoever befall him, his wife, or child, the minister and the MEC, together with police management, will be held accountable.
Zulu is not the only one to have suffered for trying to hold abusive police accountable – and if nothing is done by the powers that be to rein in and discipline the SAPS by a complete overhaul of management structures no one will be safe.
Note that all the events detailed are documented in correspondence with the police and political leaders and in KZN Monitor reports, including ‘The Scorpions : Trial by Media’. There has also been media coverage, including of the events involving the SANDF and FarmWatch in 2000