South Africans Launch Reform of Police Conduct
ANTI-APARTHEID and civil rights groups have welcomed official moves to discipline the security forces following the signing of a national peace accord.Since the peace accord was signed Sept. 14, a special police investigator has disclosed that 24 policemen have been suspended in recent months pending criminal charges arising out of their alleged involvement in political violence. Six have been charged with murder and one with assault, and the remainder are expected to be charged in coming weeks. Senior police officers have disclosed that an independent initiative is under way within the police force to make the police accountable and subject them to a code of conduct dovetailing with that contained in the peace accord. The provisions seek police accountability to the community and involve civilians in monitoring and formulating policy. "This accord represents a significant move toward consensus between the police force and society," says Etienne Marais of the Independent Policing Research Project, a human rights research group attached to the liberal University of the Witwatersrand. "What is encouraging is that the police themselves are looking for answers and solution and there is a move toward greater openness," he says. It was disclosed Sunday that the government, the African National Congress (ANC), and the Inkatha Freedom Party are finalizing a military code of conduct to be included in the peace accord. The Sunday Times of Johannesburg, which has a copy of the draft code, said soldiers would be compelled to disobey "political" demands that violate the Constitution or provisions of the code. The military code envisages a nonracial army and proposes talks with leaders of the ANC's military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, and the armies of the four black homelands. It also proposes an ombudsman to investigate irregularities and an advisory commission to set guidelines for training and deploying a new South African defense force. This represents a breakthrough on what anti-apartheid groups regarded as a prerequisite for political settlement - an impartial defense force. The breakthrough came following the removal of the former defense minister, Gen. Magnus Malan, and his replacement with a civilian, Roelf Meyer, a key figure in the negotiating process. According to the report, the ANC has responded positively to the proposals but wants to negotiate more effective mechanisms to enforce the provisions. The ANC has also welcomed moves to bring the police force into line. "We are glad about the action which has been taken, but we believe there are many more policemen to act against," said Carl Niehaus, an ANC spokesman. "We hope this is an indication of police preparedness to act against people who have been party to promoting the violence." Last Wednesday Deputy Law and Order Minister Johan Scheepers told a meeting of businessmen in Cape Town of official steps to ensure a greater civilian role in monitoring the police and formulating future policy. "We accept the principle that there is no place in the police force for policing practices based on personal or racial prejudice, corruption, excessive force, or any other unlawful action," Mr. Scheepers said. Graeme Simpson, acting director of the Project for the Study of Violence at Witwatersrand University, says that a greater civilian role was important. "This is the only way that you can create the kind of trust between the police and policed communities that is essential for effective policing," he says. But he warned that a "decades-old culture" of sanctioning covert action within the state bureaucracy would continue for some time. "So the likelihood is that the action they have taken against police represents only the tip of the iceberg," he says. The role of the security forces in political violence has been the major obstacle to political negotiations. The ANC and civil rights groups insist that elements of the security forces are involved in promoting violence and that President Frederik de Klerk is either part of the conspiracy or has lost control of the security forces. Mr. De Klerk has denied government involvement in the violence or the existence of a conspiracy within the security forces. Maj. Gen. Ronnie van der Westhuizen, head of a special unit set up this year to probe political violence, told the Monitor Thursday that the suspensions of 24 policemen arose from incidents in 1990 and 1991. He said his unit had worked in conjunction with lawyers in the ANC. But General Van der Westhuizen said he had found no evidence of conspiracy in the security forces or collaboration with members of the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party. He said 29 sub-units under his command were investigating "thousands" of cases of political violence.