SAIRR Today: Does the ANC have a special relationship with the police? - 25th June 2010

Jun 25, 2010
The allegation that elements in the Youth League of the African National Congress used the police to remove rival delegates from a party conference in Makhado in April must be taken seriously. If the allegations are true this behavior may usher in a new era in South Africa’s post-1994 politics.

Newspapers in South Africa this week reported that the leader of the Youth League of the African National Congress, Mr Julius Malema, gave orders to senior police members in Limpopo to remove delegates from a youth league electoral conference in April. The delegates were said to be rivals of Mr. Malema who were contesting the leadership of the League in the province. A video posted by The Times appears to show Mr. Malema giving such instructions. Certain newspapers have also reported that the police used force, including firing rubber bullets from their shotguns, to remove Mr. Malema’s rivals from the conference.

The Democratic Alliance has since laid a complaint with the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) over the matter. The ICD has said that they would investigate.
The South African Police Service Act of 1995 is very clear on the police playing a non-partisan role in South Africa.
To a certain extent it is perhaps not surprising that these allegations have now surfaced for the reasons that follow.
The South African Police Service (SAPS) has a long history of playing a partisan role in South African politics. For fifty years, that role was in support of the National Party government. It was perhaps too much to hope that this institutional memory of loyalty to powerful political movements in the country has been totally done away with.
The South African Police Service is headed by a former ANC politician. This creates the impression that the police are answerable to the ANC. This is actually the position of the ANC itself, which claims that senior leaders in Government and the civil service are deployed by the party and are therefore answerable first and foremost to the party. 
The deputy police commissioner is a former head of the ANC Youth League and thought to be a close political ally of Mr. Malema. He was allegedly present at a party at Mr. Malema’s house where Mr. Malema was alleged to have assaulted a police officer. There are also the allegations that traffic officers who stopped Mr. Malema for speeding were allegedly issued with warning letters by their superiors. Again, the impression created is that the police are under the direct political control of the ANC as a party and not as the ANC in Government – a subtle but important distinction.  
Also important is the statement made by Mr. Malema some time ago that his League had been penetrated by agitators and that these people had to be arrested. He might very well have been referring to what was in fact a perfectly democratic process within the ANC to contest leadership positions in the League. However the threat of arrest would have sounded a clear warning to his rivals in the party of what to expect were they to continue any political campaign to have him unseated.
Senior ANC politicians have seen to it that they are surrounded by a phalanx of heavily armed policemen. The blue light convoys that ferry the country’s political leaders around are a well known menace on South Africa’s highways. Their bullying and often violent behavior has been well documented in the media. 
Finally, a report that the Institute will release in a few weeks’ time suggests that there has been a significant breakdown of discipline and command and control in the police force. Police officers do not appear to be held accountable for disciplinary infractions and in many cases even criminal offences. In such an environment it is easy for political leaders to exploit the leadership weaknesses in the police force to compel police officers to behave in a politically partisan manner.
If it is true that there is a ‘special relationship’ between the ANC and the police then it must be expected that the ANC will abuse that relationship. This is particularly so considering the bitter nature of political infighting within the ANC and its alliance partners. Considering the stakes of winning or losing political control of the ANC, it is in fact surprising that we have not seen more incidents of the ANC abusing the security forces to fight internal party political battles.
Some may say that we have in fact seen this already. The former president, Thabo Mbeki, also allegedly abused the intelligence services to spy on his political rivals until they turned the tables on him and used the intelligence services to have corruption charges against Mr. Jacob Zuma dropped. That may all be true but what we have not really seen is something as crude and as blatant as an instruction to a policeman to remove a political rival from a conference in order to win an election.
If this behavior is not stamped out now, expect it to set a precedent that with time may come to feature prominently in South Africa’s politics.         
-          Frans Cronje

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