External investigations into IPID are crucial for police-public relations

Left unchecked, already low levels of trust in South Africa’s criminal justice system will deteriorate further.

Pretoria, South Africa – Serious allegations of systemic malpractice in the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) exposed by Daneel Knoetze and Laura Grant in Viewfinder on 7 October must be independently investigated as a matter of urgency, says the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

IPID is a key pillar in South Africa’s police accountability architecture. It is mandated by the constitution and the IPID Act to investigate serious allegations of abuse and criminality by police, including rape, assault and torture.

‘We need to see urgent action to ensure these allegations are investigated,’ said Gareth Newham, head of the Justice and Violence Prevention programme at the ISS. ‘IPID’s internal investigation is a necessary but not a sufficient step to expose the depth of the problem and ensure full accountability of those responsible.’

The rule of law is already under threat in South Africa from corruption and maladministration in the criminal justice sector. Allowing the very body tasked with preventing police abuse of power to escape scrutiny would deeply damage prospects for justice in the country, Newham said.

Viewfinder’s allegations are extremely grave and are supported by statistical and whistle-blower evidence. They point to endemic organisation-wide fraud that undermines police accountability and erodes the right to justice for victims of police criminality and misconduct.

IPID’s predecessor, the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) was established in 1997 as part of the country’s post-apartheid police reforms. When it was formed in 2012, IPID was given more power and independence than the ICD, but it remains underfunded and underresourced.

According to IPID's 2017/18 Annual Report, its staff budget was reduced by R14.4 million in that year and by a further R23 million in 2018/19. With a current budget of just R315.1 million, IPID has fewer than 400 staff.

Capacity constraints in IPID may well have contributed to this week’s allegations of malpractices, but they in no way excuse them.

IPID has dismissed the contention that malpractice is widespread within the organisation and believes it has to some extent already dealt with the problem by acting against Gauteng officials implicated in the fraudulent closure of cases. Speaking in Parliament on 10 October, Acting Executive Director Victor Senna said he would fast-track a three-year old internal investigation into the allegations.

Viewfinder’s exposé implies that IPID has for many years misled Parliament about its effectiveness and efficiency in excercising independent civilian oversight of police. Over the same period, trust in the police has eroded, civil claims against police have soared, police funds have been pillaged by corrupt officers, and hundreds of victims have died or been injured as a result of police action – including at Marikana in 2012.

If South Africa is to embrace professional, democratic policing then government must be held accountable for not sufficiently supporting IPID, and IPID must be held accountable for its malpractice. Indeed, in 2016 the Constitutional Court made clear that while IPID should be insulated from undue political interference, it should not be absolved of political accountability.  

The ISS calls on the Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, to ensure that the police and if necessary, the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks), investigate allegations of fraud and other criminal offences by IPID officials, such as defeating the ends of justice.

Cele should also request the Public Service Commission (PSC) to investigate the extent to which IPID closed cases unduly. ‘Criminal investigations are essential, but they focus on individuals,’ said Newham. ‘The PSC can probe whether an organisational culture of deceit exists in IPID, and if so, how it occurred and what needs to be done to change it.’ This will ensure that IPID is properly fulfilling its constitutional duty and will prevent the need for future inquiries of this sort.

Only effective investigations followed by prosecutions will reveal the true extent of alleged miconduct and malpractices within IPID, and allow for appropriate corrective action to be taken to restore its credibility. Left unchecked, trust in police and the state’s ability to uphold the rule of law will deteriorate further.

Further information and interviews, contact:

Andrew Faull, ISS: +27 798339549; [email protected]

Johan Burger, ISS: +27 82 822 0962;  [email protected]

Picture: Ashraf Hendricks/GroundUp

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