Submission to the Portfolio Committee on Defence

Comments on the Policing Powers of the SANDF when in support of the SAPS

By the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference
Parliamentary Liaison Office

  1. Introduction:
    1. The Catholic Bishops' Conference Parliamentary Office welcomes this opportunity to comment on the policing powers of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) when in support of the South African Police Services (SAPS).
    2. The current situation in South Africa can only be seen in the context of the past. Apartheid bred a lack of respect for human life, dignity and, with justification, the state's security forces. The consequences of which we are now seeing. The high crime rate and the lack of confidence in the police force in many areas are indicative of this.
    3. There is widespread acknowledgement that the situation needs to be urgently addressed so that criminals do not hold our country hostage. We would thus like to commend the government for all it is doing to eradicate crime and rectify the situation, especially through legislative measures. Legislation, however, is only the first step on the road to normalising South African society.
    4. While there is consensus that the situation needs to be addressed, there are divergent views as to how this ought to be done. One of the suggestions has been that the role of the SANDF be extended to that of policing in support of the SAPS. While we would support attempts to normalise our society, we need to seriously consider the implications of such an action and weigh up the short-term benefits with the long-term consequences.
    5. We would like to acknowledge that there are instances where military assistance in police operations has proved to be successful. Should such operations be approved and the policing powers of the SANDF be increased it will be of vital importance that mechanisms and structures are in place that allow for civilian oversight and monitoring of where, when and how these operations are to be carried out.
  2. Difficulties:
    1. The proposal that the SANDF have extended policing powers to assist the SAPS needs to be carefully examined. Justifying joint operations and extending the powers of the SANDF on the basis that crime is a threat to national security has all the hallmarks of Apartheid era politics. More justification than this will be required for such extraordinary measures to be carried out.
    2. If the situation is such that it is necessary for the SANDF to be bought into joint operations with the police and their policing powers increased, we need to closely examine current priorities. What is needed is a greater emphasis on increasing the effectiveness of the SAPS. There is a need to prioritise the SAPS, and not to increase spending on the SANDF. We recognise that there is a legitimate need to maintain the sovereign integrity of South Africa. In the absence of any pressing threat, this should not be done at the expense of safeguarding the safety and security of citizens.
    3. One of the problems of this proposal is that the SANDF is a very different structure from the SAPS. Not only are their purposes very different, but as organisations, they are also run very differently. Should joint operations be approved it should be made clear that the SANDF are involved in policing operations under the auspices of the SAPS. The operations should be commanded by the SAPS and should not become military operations.
    4. It is necessary to remember that there are historical antagonisms between the SANDF and the SAPS and these will need to be taken into account. In some areas that are politically volatile such as parts of KwaZulu-Natal, joint operations could potentially lead to further instability.
    5. Given that there is competition between different divisions of the SAPS, it is highly likely that, in some quarters at least, there would be internal dissatisfaction with sharing in joint operations and increasing the policing powers of the SANDF. It is thus important to clearly elucidate the role of the SANDF in such operations, what line of command will be followed, and who is responsible to whom. Any friction between the two services should be carefully monitored and appropriate mechanisms established to deal with problems that might arise.
    6. Various people and organisations have expressed concern at the practical implementation of such operations. Since there are high levels of corruption within the SAPS in certain areas and given the bureaucratic nature of government departments, there are fears that these may substantially undermine the day-to-day running of such operations.
    7. It is readily conceded that should the SANDF be involved in joint operations, if things went according to plan, these operations would deliver results very quickly. Military-style operations are generally faster and more efficient than their civilian counterparts. One must remember, however, that the SAPS cannot be removed from that sphere of democratic decision-making and civil accountability. This may slow the process somewhat. It would be very dangerous to subsume these processes and the constitution in quick-fix solutions to create order.
    8. The twentieth century is awash with examples of order being made the focal point of society, at the expense of civil liberties and the democratic process. It would be very dangerous to encourage the speed and efficiency of military-style operations as a substitute for adhering to legal and constitutional limitations. This could lead to a perception within the security forces as well as the public of democracy being a threat to "order" and encourage the authoritarian modes of thinking seen in the Apartheid government and other fascist regimes.
    9. Any joint operations between the SANDF and SAPS would need to be carefully monitored. The supportive role of the SANDF would have to be thoroughly justified to parliament and the public. The parameters of their role would need to be very clearly defined to ensure that they stay within the confines of democratic and constitutional government.
    10. Such close scrutiny of joint operations would necessitate one looking very carefully at the proposed extension of powers that might be granted to the SANDF. The SANDF should not, for example, have extended policing powers such as search and seizure. It would be highly undesirable to supplant the duties of the SAPS onto the SANDF.
    11. It is important to look at the medium and long-term effects that joint operations would have on communities. The involvement of the SANDF should not be used as an alternative to transforming the police services. Unless the underlying causes of crime are addressed, short-term solutions, such as using the SANDF, are not going to be effective. It would be imperative that the local police services are able to maintain the status quo that will have been achieved. This can only be done if the SAPS are not part of the crime problem. Corruption, lack of training, higher pay, increasing discipline and efficiency will all need to be addressed.
    12. It is important that the SAPS reflect a substantive change from the Apartheid era in the approach to policing in South Africa. It is necessary for the emphasis to be changed from working against the community to working with the community to combat crime. This includes a greater sensitivity towards victims and using non-violent methods of conflict resolution.
    13. Rather than relying on brute force to solve the problem of crime, we would encourage greater civilian and community involvement in the work of the SAPS. This, coupled with effective policing, should reduce the need to incorporate the military in policing operations.
  3. Conclusion:
    1. We acknowledge that there are instances where the assistance of the SANDF may help to expedite the fight against crime. Should such operations be approved there will need to be sufficient justification for ad hoc operations. In such instances it will be important that there is civilian oversight and mechanisms in place to monitor the necessity and duration of these operations in extraordinary circumstances.
    2. That the government is attempting to look at new solutions to fighting crime in South Africa needs to be commended. The suggestion that the SANDF have increased policing powers when in support of the SAPS in joint operation, however, is fraught with problems. The underlying causes of crime and the need for transformation in the SAPS cannot be solved by short-term operations with the SANDF. Problems may be exacerbated once the SANDF have left. The SAPS need to create confidence within communities that they are capable and have the will to fight crime. It is important to remember that increasing the policing powers of the SANDF in joint operations will not be the panacea of all ills.

For more information, please contact:

Felicity Harrison


Catholic Parliamentary Office