|The following is a statement by Prof Peter Alexander, South African Research Chair (SHARChi) in Social Change, Dr Carin Runciman and Ms Boitumelo Maruping challenging allegations made by the SAPS about the credibility of their recent research report, South African Police Service (SAPS) Crowd Incidents: A Preliminary Analysis.|
Rebuttal of allegations by SAPS
We are disturbed by the response of SAPS to our analysis of data newly released by SAPS Incident Registration Information System (IRIS) on crowd management incidents. We refute their distortion of analysis found in our report. Our report can be downloaded from: bit.ly/1JVgQri. See SAPS media statement, issued on 28 May 2015.
Here we provide a point by point rejection of claims made by SAPS.
1) SAPS says: South African Police Service (SAPS) has noted media reports regarding a study conducted by the University of Johannesburg about the Public Order Policing Unit and more specifically, the R3,3 billion budget proposal submitted to the Portfolio Committee on Police.
Our response: Our report was not about Public Order Policing (POP) but about the SAPS Incident Registration Information System (IRIS) and, specifically, mis-readings of data it generates.
2) SAPS says: It is clear that this deliberate misinterpretation of facts supports the view held by some of the researchers that the police should not be involved in the management of protests. The information was clearly manipulated in order to suit this view
Our response: This is an unfounded allegation by the SAPS. Our report is based upon analysis of over 150,000 crowd incidents supplied by the SAPS. We express gratitude to the SAPS for making this data available. The report contains extensive appendices and a description of the methodology that we used. At no point in either our media briefing (held on 27 May) or in the report did we say police should not be involved in the management of protests.
3) SAPS says: On 29 August 2014, SAPS management briefed the [Portfolio] Committee [on Police] on the “state of Public Order Policing and the plans to enhance Public Order Policing”.
Our response: The report makes no mention of a meeting on this date, but it does highlight misleading comments made by Lt. General Elias Mawela, the divisional commissioner responsible for Public Order Policing, on 3 September 2014.
4) SAPS says: SAPS therefore did not conflate “incidents” and “protests”.
Our response: We quoted a statement from Lt. General Mawela to the portfolio committee, where he says as follows: Violent protest action escalated from 1,226 in 2011/12, and then in 2012/13 it is 1,882, and in the last financial year [2013/14] it escalated to 1,907.
The figures he gives are taken from SAPS’s Annual Reports where it is clearly stated that these are numbers for ‘unrest-related incidents’. So there is conflation of ‘violent protest action’ and ‘unrest’. Appendix 4 of our report contains many cases of ‘crowd (unrest) incidents’ (a concept with the same, or closely similar meaning to ‘unrest-related incidents’). Many of these were not violent protests, as in this example below.
ON 2010-03-20 CAPT… OF POP-DURBAN AND OTHER MEMBERS OF POP MONITORED THE SOCCER MATCH AT MOSES MABIDA STADIUM IN DURBAN BETWEEN AMAZULU F.C AND MARITZBURG UNITED. THE GATES OPENED AT ABOUT 11:00 AND THE MATCH STATED AT ABOUT 15:00. +-7010 PEOPLE ATTENDED. AT 15:50 CAPT… ARRESTED THE FOLLOWING PERSONS FOR PUBLIC DISTURBANCE AT THE NORTH ENTRANCE TURNISTILE. AS PER DURBAN CENTRAL CAS 1322/03/2010. 1. MR… 28YRS SAP 14-143/03/2010 2. MR… 30YRS SAP 14-940/03/2010 THE MATCH WAS FINSHED AT 17:00. THE SCORE ; AMAZULU-1 MARITZBURG UNITED -0 ALL IN ORDER. PEOPLE DISPERSE PEACEFULLY. NO INCIDENT REPORTED. I/R-02A/R – 30 – 31 O/B – 1420/03/2010 [20/03/2010, Kwa-Zulu Natal]
5) SAPS says: SAPS management therefore takes strong exception to being accused of lying to MPs.
Our response: We make no such accusation in the report. However, we did say that the public and parliament had been misled and we stand by this. It is for Lt. General Mawela and the Portfolio Committee to say whether he was lying. Perhaps he just misspoke or was misinformed, but his assessment was reported in the media and repeated by politicians, and not, to the best of our knowledge, corrected.
6) SAPS says : Violent incidents are not defined by “police intervention”, but by the conduct of participants that violate or infringe upon the rights of others.
Our response: We did not say that violent incidents are defined by police intervention. However, we explained that the distinction between ‘crowd (peaceful)’ and ‘crowd (unrest)’ was determined by whether or not there had been police intervention. Here our understanding came directly from communication with a senior officer in SAPS. In the example above there is evidence of intervention in that two people were arrested but, there is no indication of a violent protest having occurred.
7) SAPS says: In other words “incidents” include all protest actions, peaceful gatherings and pure unrest incidents that cannot be justified as crowd management incidents like taxi violence, gang violence, ethnic and racial violence, demonstrations, political meetings, road barricades and revenge attacks by a small group of people.
Our response: IRIS distinguishes between crowd (peaceful) and crowd (unrest) incidents. For each incident IRIS assigns a ‘motive’, and these include ‘gang conflict’, ‘taxi dispute’ and ‘racial conflict’. Their statement contradicts what IRIS records show.
We were not concerned to attack the police but rather to underscore misrepresentation of their own statistics. The key point is that ‘incidents’ cannot be equated with ‘protest’ and ‘unrest’ is not the same as ‘violent’.
We were further concerned to draw this matter to the public’s attention because SAPS’s misleading use of its own statistics is likely to have an impact on the public’s perception of a mammoth increase in spending on Public Order Policing. The increase, by R3.3 billion from R2.7 billion, will fund an almost doubling of the number of Public Order Police and additional water cannon and pyrotechnics.
From our broader research we know that the single most important issue propelling community protests is housing – both the sub-standard quality of much public housing and an absolute lack of sufficient dwellings. Assuming that an RDP house costs R150,000, the extra R3.3 billion spent on Public Order Policing would be enough to build more than 200,000 RDP houses, roughly tripling the number completed in recent years.
We wish to encourage public debate about how government should best respond to community protests. We have written to SAPS in order to clarify any misunderstandings that may have arisen. We hope that they will read the full report and provide a considered response in the near future.