Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Online Letter
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
The crime statistics published last week, once again, underlines the truth of the dictum "lies, damned lies, and statistics": part of a phrase attributed to the 19th Century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, among others, and later popularised in the United States by writers like Mark Twain. As one would have expected, the crime statistics are a real "mixed bag". "The crimes you fear most are on the rise," was how one newspaper put it.
House robberies: up 27% for the year ending in March
Business robberies: up 41%.
Sex crimes: up 10.1%.
Carjackings: up 5%.
As we prepare for FIFA, alas, these scary statistics went around the world ending up in publications like the Los Angeles Times. And here's what some South Africans have been saying, via the BBC website:
Andy in Johannesburg: "I don't believe that the police have adequate training to handle such authority and to make the correct choices when faced with a threat."
Peter in Cape Town: "Violent crime will not be ended by redemptive violence but by adopting better solutions to the causes of crime in this country: poverty, racism, social injustice and the like."
Mathopa in Polokwane: "The president is right. The police must shoot at criminals to protect law abiding citizens.
"As South Africa grapples with the figures and indicators of the latest crime statistics, we must not forget the ordinary men and women behind the numbers. IFP spokesperson on police, Velaphi Ndlovu, put it so well last week: "In the end, every statistic in the document before us reflects a deeply affected life in a deeply affected society". "South Africans are being driven further and further apart, afraid even to look each other in the eye" he added. A large part of the problem is that as the apartheid-era police force was feared and distrusted, now surveys indicate eroding confidence in the contemporary force, due in part to corruption and the frequent reluctance of police to act on crime reports or visit crime scenes.
While I like President Jacob Zuma's hands-on approach, his straight-talking does sometimes evokes President Bush's cowboy rhetoric: "We're going to smoke them out". Is it compelling and popular? Yes. Is it sensible? No. President Zuma's permission to Police Station Commanders this week to shoot to kill is dangerous.
Until legislation is changed with watertight safeguards, such direction from the President could land police officers in hot water.
We have seen this many times in some states in the US.
The IFP position is clear.
We recognise that more police powers, while intrinsically is a good thing, creates more room for corrupt practices. Therefore it is imperative that a culture of discipline be inculcated in our police force. Particularly in an environment where illegal firearms are so easily available, there is a danger that guns may be planted on suspects after the fact. This why we urged the President yesterday to acknowledge that it is not just 'cops and robbers', as my colleague put it, we are dealing with, but human beings who must be trained to exercise sound judgment and be held accountable for their decisions.
We must have a police force that is non-aligned, that takes policing decisions on policing grounds and that protects people's rights under the Constitution. We simply need a police that would do its job. Such a police service must also be better resourced.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, MP