19 August 2016

Secrecy as Procedure: The need for a transparent SAPS

This week, four years ago, the world watched in horror as 34 miners were shot down by the South African Police Services (SAPS) at the Lonmin mine in Marikana. Those who have seen the footage will not find it easy to forget, and nor should they, the shocking visuals of the violence used against protesters by the very people tasked with their protection. During this Marikana Massacre Remembrance week, the South African History Archive’s (SAHA) Freedom of Information Programme team (FOIP team) looks back at a number of Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2000 requests (PAIA requests) made the years since the Marikana massacre.

The FOIP team has, for instance, submitted access to information requests this year, in addition to previous requests for data sets recorded in the SAPS’s Incident Registration Information System (IRIS), in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information (PAIA) for:

In response, SAPS have decided to release various records whose content will be scrutinised by the FOIP team as soon as they arrive at SAHA’s offices.

The records are important because they allow for greater transparency within the Public Order Policing Units who must ensure that they are not heavy handed in dealing with the public and act within the scope of their training. The application of police violence is relevant for not just the protesters in the streets, but the society who watches, as silence amounts to assent in the face of an increasingly hostile state with ever sharper teeth. SAHA knows how important transparency is, and as it is no less important than on the hot topic of Public Order Policing (POP). SAHA has submitted a number of requests over the years to the SAPS about oversight of the POP concerning their budget, police misconduct, national instructions and its standard operating procedure.

Without such requests deepening our democracy by holding state institutions to account for their actions, South Africans are at risk of becoming sheep to an unruly government of wolves.

Given that the spectre of Marikana still hangs low over the rainbow nation, there is still much work to be done by the police to shake off the culture of unaccountable killing and hidden internal policy, so reminiscent of our own history during apartheid. In this new democracy, there should be a renegotiation of the power imbalance, an imbalance that cannot be rectified with the police using the guns our taxes put in their hands, as they did in Marikana. To do this, the SAPS must ensure that there is transparency about the powers of public order police, beginning with letting us know what guns they use, training they receive and footage they take when society takes to the streets.