SA Today: A Thin and Broken Blue Line

helenzille2011bWhere, in any democracy in the world, can a handful of protestors close down a major urban highway, day after day, without facing arrest? Or, with impunity, blockade an airport; strew faeces in public places, and hurl toilet tanks into oncoming traffic?

Where in any democracy can five “protestors” invite the media to watch them hijack a truck, and force the driver to “jack-knife” across a highway, without any consequences?

The answer is the Western Cape, the only Province in South Africa where the ANC lost a free and fair election. (Watch the video link here).

ANC office bearers openly and regularly announce their intention of “liberating” the province. They have an official name for this project. It is called “Operation Reclaim”. This is ironic, not only because the Western Cape government was elected by a majority of its voters, but because, according to all official statistics, the poor get much better services in the Western Cape than in any ANC-run province.

Operation Reclaim started in a low-key way when the ANC lost the 2009 election. It escalated after the local elections of 2011 and by 2012, it went into overdrive. In July that year, ANC Youth League leader, Khaya Yozi (who is also an ANC councillor), announced in a signed declaration that the League (and several other organisations) planned to make Cape Town and the Province “ungovernable” (read the signed ultimatum here). Since then, a self-appointed “task team” has been busy doing just that. The Province and the City immediately laid charges of “incitement to public violence” but we have heard nothing since.

In any other constitutional democracy, a person inciting others to violent rebellion against a democratically elected government would be charged with sedition.

But not where the ANC loses elections. Here, seditionists announce their intentions publicly, claim responsibility for the ensuing anarchy, and hold media conferences at the scene of their crimes, as the police look on. Our seditionists are members, office bearers and public representatives of a party whose leaders turns a blind eye to criminality directed against their political opponents. I have had no response to letters sent to President Zuma asking him to condemn the “task team’s” actions. So I can only presume he condones them. No wonder they act with impunity.

Sibusiso Zonke is a good example. He is an ANC youth league branch secretary, a law student at UWC and a proud member of the “ungovernability” task team. He regularly breaks the law and undermines the constitution before his first law lecture in the morning. In a recent newspaper interview, he explained a regular routine. He gets out of his warm bed in the university residence in the early hours, catches a ride to the N2 Highway, where he blockades the peak morning traffic, throws faeces around, occasionally bares his bum for the cameras, and gets back in time for lectures (having made tens of thousands of others late for work/school/job interviews/whatever).

The rest of the ‘turd force’ (who usually strike in groups of five or six), start their day in a similar way. The names of the core group are Sithembele Majova, Sibusiso Zonke, Nangamsamo Thsutha, Bongani Ncombolo, Khaya Kama, Bongile Zanazo, Andile Lile and Loyiso Nkohla (their pictures, including links to the Western Cape ANC leadership can be found here).

Since May they have been responsible for at least 12 hits around the City.  Most of the task team members live in formal accommodation, with massively subsidised services, courtesy of the taxpayer. They plan their attacks on social media via cell phone and intend to intensify them, according to Songezo Mjongile, the ANC’s Provincial Secretary (no less). He told a reporter:  “We are not going to stop now.  She [Zille] must expect more.”

The task team keeps itself busy over weekends as well, for example by throwing faeces at a DA community help-desk in Khayelitsha, destroying computers and printers to prevent the DA helping job seekers type and print their CVs. The DA laid a charge of malicious damage to property. Recently we asked police for a progress report and were informed that the investigator could not identify the perpetrators. So we supplied the names and photos of the attackers in the act. One of them had actually uploaded a photo himself, on Facebook, boasting about his involvement.

Arrests have been few and far between. Once, a group was arrested carrying blue faeces-filled refuse bags on a train to Cape Town. (When the police stopped them, the group argued that they could do what they liked with their own faeces). On another occasion the ringleaders were arrested after dumping the contents of stolen portable flush toilet tanks at Cape Town international airport.

Bongani Ncombolo, a task team member, explained the motive behind their attack in a television interview: “It was planned,” he said. “We targeted the airport because we know that the airport is very much important in terms of the Western Cape Economy.” That public statement would seal a conviction on charges of sedition or sabotage in most democracies. In South Africa, this little group was charged under the Civil Aviation Act.

Such arrests are a rare exception, and are often carried out by the special “Public Order Policing” (POP) unit, that has done its best to contain public violence. Often, however, the SAPS are actually on the scene, as bystanders, watching the proceedings unfold.

Take, for example, the attacks on the Provincial Parliament, a National Key Point. Its entrance is routinely staffed by a large police contingent. On the occasion of both attacks, the police managed to close the doors, and watch through glass panels.

The first sign of an impending attack is the arrival of the television cameras taking up their positions at a safe distance from the action. (Zoom lenses are useful when covering faeces attacks.) Then, members of the “task team” arrive, usually in a 5-series BMW, and unload sewage tanks (stolen from portable flush toilets in informal settlements). They break the seals and tip the contents at the entrance to the building. They convene a press conference on the pavement before casually departing the scene.

The TV reporter who covered this particular incident concluded by saying “the perpetrators had left by the time the police arrived.” Actually, NO. The police were on the scene when the perpetrators arrived. In fact, the police can be seen in the television footage, observing the events from behind locked doors.

We often experience a similar non-response from police as people break the law with impunity. We saw it, for example, when scores of armed men blockaded a public road to prevent seven DA members from conducting an oversight visit to Nkandla.

I have always wondered how this is possible. Last week I found out the answer during the course of two encounters: One with the Minister of Police, Nathi Mthethwa; and the other with National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega.

Both displayed complete ignorance of their policing mandate. Both argued that if violent protestors had genuine grievances, there was no point arresting them because they would simply return the next day. The Provincial Director of Public Prosecution, Advocate Rodney de Kock, made a similar argument when he refused to press charges against ANC Councillors Andile Lili and Loyiso Nkohla for breaking down toilet enclosures — an act broadcast live on national television.

What hope is there for our young democracy when the very people responsible for defending the rule of law resort to such arguments?

Of course, they are right that we must continue to improve service delivery. We work hard to do so every day. But it is much harder to achieve results in a state of anarchy. And it is especially difficult when much of the criminality is directed at destroying existing infrastructure; or prevent a DA government from delivering services to the poor. A recent example is the attempt, by ANC supporters, to sabotage the pipes of pumps delivered by the City to pump floodwater out of low lying settlements. The police did not respond to requests for help.

Some of the police “non-response” scenes belong in a Monty Python movie.  Such as a recent faeces attack, observed in close detail by my colleague and Member of Parliament, Geordin Hill-Lewis, in Mew Way, Khayelitsha. Geordin arrived on the scene where seven members of the turd force were blocking the road with burning tyres and throwing faeces, while 12 policemen looked on.  Geordin approached the police and asked why they were allowing lawlessness by a small group of people to proceed unhindered. The police ignored him. He asked again, in a more urgent tone.  At which the policeman turned to him and said: “If you do not leave now, I will arrest you!” The irony was clearly lost on them.

But maybe they are just following the official “line”, emanating from Minister Mthethwa and General Phiyega, who have rejected “oversight” of the police as required in the constitution and the Police Act. As General Phiyega herself said in a Parliamentary portfolio committee this week: Community Police Forums are “impimpis” who “spy” on police performing their functions.

Minister Mthethwa has taken the Provincial Government to the highest court in the land to prevent us from undertaking “oversight” (which is the only power provinces have over policing).

But, then again, Minister Mthethwa and General Phiyega are only following the lead of the man at the very top, colloquially known as “Number 1”. After all, he has abused taxpayers’ money for years, to circumvent the law in his attempts to ensure that he never has to answer 700 charges against him. If we want to sweep clean the staircase of South Africa’s democracy, we need to start at the very top.

On the ground, apart from the POPs special unit, it is primarily the Metropolitan Police, under the control of the City of Cape Town, that are containing the “ungovernability” brigade.

No wonder Minister Mthethwa wants to disband them — and incorporate them into the SAPS.

If he tries, we will take him to the highest court in the land, to secure the right of local government to do a job that the Minister is patently failing to do:  secure the safety of citizens, and defend the constitution.

Helen Zille

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