Three eThekwini Metro Police officers who allegedly used a blow torch to break into the safe of a business in Tongaat during the riots and looting in KwaZulu-Natal last week, have highlighted the apparent political schism in law enforcement ranks.
Democratic Alliance spokesperson on police Dianne Kohler Barnard said the three officers had been arrested after they allegedly used a blow torch to break into a safe at Checkers in the Tongaat central business district during the height of the riots and looting. The unrest broke out on the night of Sunday 11 July when supporters of former president Jacob Zuma threatened to shut down Durban in protest against his incarceration in Estcourt Prison. Zuma was found guilty of contempt of court in the Constitutional Court after he refused to obey a court order to appear before the Zondo Commission into State Capture. He has been sentenced to 15 months in jail.
eThekwini Metro police spokesperson Parboo Sewpersad declined to comment on the arrest of the suspects saying only that the SAPS were “dealing with investigations at a higher level”.
Kohler Barnard said that the three policemen had been arrested and were being held in custody without bail.
‘The used a blow torch to cut the safe open,” she said.
Kohler-Barnard said citizens had lost faith in the SAPS and eThekwini Metro Police after they had witnessed and also seen videos of the police standing and watching while thousands of looters overran shopping centres and businesses. She said local police stations were severely under resourced to cope with the crisis, an issue that she had repeatedly raised over the years. Other sources, who responded to the scene of the riots and looting last week said the looters were aware they could not fire live ammunition and had laughed at security officers as they continued their orgy of violence.
Law enforcement sources have also raised concern about alleged pro-Zuma political schisms within the SAPS and eThekwini Metro Police.
“I have had the fear and I think many people have that we even have elements within the SAPS and elements within (eThekwini) Metro Police who are linked with the Zuma camp and in many cases we saw them standing bank and not calling in reinforcements,” Kohler Barnard said.
She said the sense of good will towards the police, especially Metro Police, had evaporated in many local communities after some officers had allegedly removed their community barricades.
“That good will has gone, and for them to now drive around and literally haul out of their (citizens) hands (the barricades), that which has protected neighbourhoods for seven days and nights. The abandoned citizens are now being treated like criminals. The backlash and vitriol from citizens is everywhere I go,” she said.
“These are the same Metro Police officers who were totally invisible, along with the SAPS. When I phoned the police station, nobody answered the phone and now to be going around flashing blue light vehicles with DSW (Durban Solid Waste) trucks and ripping the stuff away that people have been protecting their own neighbourhood with and treating them like they are criminals? They were invisible from Sunday to Thursday so everybody is at the end of their tether,” she said.
She said there had also been pockets of excellence among police officers.
“There are great cops and great metro cops but if you have got poison within, you can lose your reputation.”
Kohle Barnard questioned where the R108.21 billion 2021/22 police budget was being spent.
“If the SAPS don’t go on a major ‘charm the community drive’ – I don’t know if it is not too late – they have lost any support any community had in them because when we needed them more than we have needed them in all the years, they were invisible. How many police stations have I heard where they (police) ran out of ammunition and the community had to give them ammunition? We spend over R100 million a year and every police station is under resourced,” she said.
Kohler Barnard has echoed the concerns that have rumbled within the rank and file of first responders, including police and security members over the past week. Sources have reported concerns about police repeatedly running out of rubber bullet ammunition and faulty equipment, including shotguns that have not been maintained, and which jam when fired.
Asked to comment on the issues raised SAPS spokesperson Colonel Brenda Muridili said: “We are not at liberty to comment on individual incidents. If communities are not happy with the service rendered, they can register complaints against SAPS officials at firstname.lastname@example.org“