The DA's Parliamentary Leader Athol Trollip will be touring the country along with DA MPs and MPLs over the next few months in order to give South Africans their constitutional right back to have their voices heard in Parliament. A range of service delivery sites across all nine provinces will be visited, and this page will document what the DA finds at these places and the people we meet, as well as the action steps taken in Parliament as a result of these findings.
What We Saw and Found
On 15-16 July, I visited the North West province with the DA’s Shadow Minister of Police, Dianne Kohler-Barnard, to conduct an oversight visit of police operations in the province.
We were joined by various DA public representatives at different stages of the trip. The public reps who joined us were: Herman Groenewald MP (North West Provincial Chairperson), Niekie van den Berg (DA Shadow Deputy Minister of Communications and MP for Merafong), Rumpff Kruger (Councillor- Potchefstroom), SP Motswenyane (MPL), Jac Meyer (Councillor- Rustenburg) and Pieter Malan (Constituency Chair- Rustenburg).
Visit to North West Police Headquarters and Potchefstroom Police Station
We began our trip with a visit to the office of the North West Police Commissioner, Lesetja Beetha. Despite efforts being made by the party’s provincial office to schedule a meeting with the Commissioner, we were refused access to him on arrival. His decision to not even open his office door to greet the DA delegation spoke volumes about his attitude towards accountability and transparency.
The following site visit, to the Potchefstroom Police Station, was much more positive. We were hosted by Brigadier Le Grange, who has been station commander for the past two years.
The Potchefstroom Police Station serves a community of approximately 200 000 people. The area’s biggest crime problems are theft from motor vehicles, common assault, burglary and sexual crimes. Brigadier Le Grange ranks road accidents as a priority, given that the rate of fatalities for such accidents is seven times higher than the town’s murder rate.
Delegates being addressed by Brigadier Le Grange outside the Potchefstroom Police Station
Using a questionnaire developed by the Parliamentary Police Portfolio committee, Dianne asked Brigadier Le Grange a range of questions to glean information about everything from resourcing problems, to training programmes for student sergeants to levels of absenteeism. While we were conducting our tour of the station, Dianne also questioned the Brigadier on key issues such as the station’s adherence to the Child Justice Act.
According to this extensive assessment, the Potchefstroom station faired well. It is an excellent example of the merits of effective leadership, sound management and commitment to the community. Yearly audits are performed to ensure that response times, especially to alpha (or high priority crimes) stay high, performance agreements are signed with all staff and performance reviews are conducted regularly. Its good performance has led the station to be the testing ground for a number of new pilot projects that the police service is currently testing- one of which is a fingerprint-activated system used by police to book on and off duty. While the station was generally well-equipped, the turnaround time for police vehicles which had been taken in for servicing did hamper service delivery.
The station has introduced a number of innovative programmes to improve its ability to effectively serve the community. Examples include a programme to develop writing competencies among staff to improve the quality of statements taken and a mentoring system to assist student sergeants.
Brigadier Le Grange’s station is also actively involved in engaging with the community- formal community meetings are held monthly, public meetings are held once every six months and initiatives such as antidrug drives in schools had also been set up. The station has made an important contribution to the well-being of the community not only through policing, but also through the building of a safe house for victims of crime. Victims can stay in the house for up to 48 hours and are offered trauma counseling. In addition, the house is equipped with rape kits so that the necessary medical samples can be collected in a non-threatening environment.
A shot from inside the station’s safe house- it has been made to look like a home to provide as comforting an environment as possible for victims
The house is filled with toys as victims of abuse who use the home are often young children
The welfare of policemen and women at the station is also a priority and psychological debriefing is available for staff members, who are often exposed to traumatic events in the line of duty.
Discipline is a core part of Brigadier Le Grange’s leadership philosophy- and the results were visible in swift way in which all staff stood to attention whenever he entered a room. His thoughts on the militarization of the police force were pragmatic, although he conceded that there was a perception among young police men and women that military ranks sounded impressive and offered them something to aspire to.
The discipline inherent in the work of Brigadier Le Grange’s staff has generated positive results. The station’s conviction rate is much higher than that of its local counterpart. The station commander also attributes this success to good detective work and a more selective approach to the number of cases brought before the court. While the station had a good relationship with its associated forensic laboratory, delays in the processing of samples remained a problem. The station’s relationship with the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) was also said to be good.
Visit to old Carletonville Police Station and current premises
In 2008, police operations in Carletonville (which was formerly in the North West province but is now part of Gauteng) were moved to temporary premises due to the problem of sinkholes on the plot. The Carletonville Police Station was therefore forced to relocate from its existing plot to a commercial building in the centre of town.
The relocation was not ideal for a number of reasons, primarily because the new space was not purpose built and was not large enough to house all the necessary sites, such as a mortuary and holding cells. In what was supposed to be an interim measure, criminals were held at Khutsong station, which was a significant distance away. This posed additional difficulties as criminals had to be transported considerable distances to take them to and from court appearances. In addition, as the new premises was privately owned, the station had to pay R127 000 in rent monthly. It had previously been operating from a property owned by the Department of Public Works, and so incurred no rental cost.
While the exact sequence of events is sketchy, it seems as if repairs were made to the plot on which the old police station stood to fix the sink hole problem, and the station itself was extensively renovated. However, the police failed to move back in when the building was finished.
As fights took place with security companies hired to guard the now vacant land and the Gauteng and North West provincial governments disputed who was responsible for managing the station, the building was broken in to and vandalized. Millions of rands worth of repairs, fittings and electrical and plumbing works were destroyed and ripped from the building by successive attacks from vandals. The station is now a shell. Insulation material has been ripped from the ceiling, light sockets have been pulled out of the walls and toilets have been smashed.
The entrance to the now derelict Carletonville Police Station
The outside of the police station
Nothing is left in the station- not even light switches
Even the fire hose and roof insulation has been stolen
The critical question is why the police never moved back to their refurbished police station, and why the building was allowed to be vandalized in such a systematic way over what was clearly an extended period of time.
Having met with various members of the community during our site visit, a number of explanations emerged. One was that the then-head of the Carletonville Police Station had unilaterally decided that she preferred the interim premises, and resisted attempts to move the police operations back to the original building. The building was subsequently vandalized and thus rendered uninhabitable.
No action has been taken against any officials for the police’s failure to take up residence in their newly refurbished premises.
Having examined the old station’s premises extensively, we also came across two houses on the site that were built for police to live in. The use of these state-owned homes is clearly not being regulated. One of the houses is inhabited by two security guards guarding the plot and is very poorly maintained (see photograph below). We established that the other home is being used by a constable at the Carletonville station, who it appears is not paying rent.
Athol, Niekie and an aspirant local DA councillor outside one of the abandoned homes
To try and get to the bottom of the situation, we paid a visit to the current Carletonville police premises and met with one of the heads of the station. He explained that from the police’s perspective, the repairs to the old police station were a Public Works issue. They had been informed that renovations would resume in the 2012/13 financial year. When questioned about the houses we had seen on the premises, the Constable could not provide a definitive answer about whether the constable who lives in one of the residences was currently paying rent. He could also offer no insight as to why no investigation was conducted into the extreme acts of vandalism committed in the former police station building. This was despite there being clear evidence at the site, for example finger prints that were clearly visible on the walls of the building.
Visit to Greater Rustenburg Community Foundation and Rustenburg Police Station
Following the Carletonville visit, we went to Rustenburg to meet with Christine Delport, who heads the Greater Rustenburg Community Foundation. Christine has become an expert in human trafficking, which is a growing problem in Rustenburg, primarily due to the town’s proximity to the South African border.
Christine described the scale of the problem in detail- abuse of local and imported children, some of whom are used by residents for the purpose of claiming fraudulent grants, bribery of local policemen by drug dealers in the area and the drugging of women in Cape Town, Durban and Bloemfontein who are then brought to Rustenburg and sold to pimps. Efforts to curb such criminal activity are undermined by the extent of corruption in the local police force, which the Second-in-Command at the Rustenburg Police Station confirmed.
We met with the station’s Second-in-Command to ascertain the state of policing in Rustenburg. He openly admitted that his station’s greatest challenge was the leaking of information (about planned raids, for example) to criminals who had policemen on their payroll. It did not seem as if he felt that the scale of the drug and prostitution problem was out of the ordinary, although he did not make it clear against what evidence he was making this assessment. This was deeply concerning, as our conversation with Christine Delport had painted a very different picture.
He regarded housebreakings as the biggest crime problem in the area and stated that there was considerable pressure on the resources of the police station, especially in terms of holding alleged criminals who were awaiting trial. Sometimes these individuals were held for between 1 and 2 years before their day in court. Also in short supply were bullet proof vests, vehicles and office space.
The most shocking discovery of our visit was made at the end of our inspection of the Rustenburg Police Station, when the station’s Second-in-Command showed us a fully stocked bar on the station’s premises that had been set up to serve the police officers. Not only was the SAPS-emblazoned bar openly serving alcohol to policemen and women from 4pm every afternoon, but it took up much needed space which could have been used for actual police work. In addition, it was being staffed by trained police officers who should have been out on the beat, not shining glasses.
From the outside, the Rustenburg police station looked fairly ordinary
The delegates inspecting the” bar” at the Rustenburg Police Station
This was an example of poor discipline at its worst. While the Colonel could not give a clear answer as to why he had allowed the bar to remain open, he was clearly embarrassed by it and said that he was under pressure from certain staff to keep the premises open.
Visit to old Carletonville Police Station and current premises
The trip we conducted to the North West was a testament to the massive pressure placed on our police service. Not only do South Africa’s policemen and women have to deal with high levels of often violent crime, but they are also chronically under-resourced. In some areas, this may mean that office space is cramped and access to police vehicles is limited. In others, a lack of vital resources, such as bullet proof vests, places the lives of policemen and women in serious danger. Corruption of SAPS members is another grave concern and is hindering efforts to reduce levels of crime, as well as eroding the legitimacy and authority of the police. Inappropriate conduct, such as that of the police officers who erected the bar at the Rustenburg Police Station, cannot be tolerated and undermines the needs of the communities these police are supposed to serve.
However, we were also exposed to many positive experiences. The Potchefstroom Police Station in particular was an example of the police stations around the country that are effective, driven to serve the community and create a supportive environment which allows the police to perform their jobs to the best of their ability.
Our Action Steps in Parliament
- Call for an investigation into a) why the operations of the Carletonville Police Station were never moved back to the original building after renovations had been completed and b) the failure of the Carltoneville police to investigate the repeated acts of vandalism which took place in the abandoned building;
- Set up a meeting between the Head Investigator of the ICD and Christine Delport, to investigate the reported corruption the Rustenberg Police Force; and
- Call for the ICD to investigate the illegal operation of a bar on the premises of the Rustenburg Police Station.