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Ethical conduct the key to restoring citizens’ confidence

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A parade of public order police members who have been deployed to KwaZulu-Natal since May as part of the SAPS contingent to maintain law and order post-elections. The safety and security and criminal justice sector must be prioritised under the new administration of the Government of National Unity, says the writer. – Picture: Oupa Mokoena / Independent Newspapers

By Pingla Udit

In 1994, South Africa entered into a Government of National Unity (GNU) with the National Party. The amalgamation process brought former enemies and foes to work together under the principles, values and goals of the new democratic dispensation in the criminal justice and security sector.

In the 1990s, the main challenge was an orderly disarmament, demobilisation, reintegration and integration process. The negotiation process in the 1990s did not pay much attention to the police, as armed forces and intelligence were prioritised.

Hence resistance to change became stronger in the South African Police Service (SAPS). This has led to the continued involvement of senior police officials in serious crimes, ranging from irregular tender awards, bribes and weapon supplies to criminal gangs in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, and police involvement in heists in Gauteng to the present day.

This time around, the safety and security and criminal justice sector, in general, must be prioritised.

The May 29 national and provincial elections heralded a different outcome. On June 30, President Cyril Ramaphosa stated: “In casting their votes, the people made it clear that they expect political parties to work together to deliver on a mandate of transformation, growth and renewal.

“To give effect to this mandate, it was agreed that a Government of National Unity, which brings together parties from across the political spectrum, should be formed. This Government of National Unity would be bound by certain fundamental principles and undertake a basic minimum programme of priorities.”

On June 14, 11 political parties of different political persuasions and socio-economic cleavages – the ANC, DA, Patriotic Alliance, IFP, PAC, GOOD, Freedom Front Plus, United Democratic Movement, Al Jama-ah, Rise Mzansi and the United Africans Transformation – elected to co-operate by the principles of a statement of intent to the executive and Parliament.

The political parties have pledged their collective commitment to the founding values of the Constitution, Bill of Rights, rule of law, non-racialism and non-sexism, evidence-based policy and decision-making, a national dialogue process and more.

The GNU should deepen ethical conduct across all layers of society, for its ministers to keep out of operations and management and to follow due processes and accountability, to keep to the rule of law in pursuit of justice and peace, ensure the depoliticisation of the civil service and a public service that is conscious of our history, and institutionalise a professional service oriented towards Batho Pele (people first) and good governance.

Over the past 30 years, the organs of government have had successes in international solidarity, peacemaking and peacebuilding in conflict zones, the African Renaissance, the African Union (AU), Agenda 2063, the Southern African Development Community and BRICS+, and has encountered some serious challenges too.

There have been threats and challenges that have impacted on the quality of service delivery to its citizens daily, ranging from electricity, water and sanitation to health services, drug-trafficking and safety and security.

The most important of all societal vulnerabilities – poverty, unemployment and inequality – must be addressed as the transformational consciousness agenda of the GNU.

How will the GNU criminal justice sector deal with the discursive terrain of multiple domestic and international challenges, the changing nature of conflict with internal civil unrest, regional terrorism, financing of terrorism, international conventions, crime, corruption and the prevalence of lawlessness, gender-based violence, cybercrime, gun violence and urban terror, urbanisation and inequalities and the urgent protection of whistle-blowers in the next five years?

The criminal justice sector has been in a continuous process of reviewing the policy framework, structural and human resource challenges, systems and processes. The recent move by the Department of Justice to start digitising its paper-based systems has been positive.

If the criminal justice sector did the same with police dockets, even filing accident or theft reports at police stations, the productivity gains would be substantial.

To make progress and deal with backlogs, the police and prosecutor need to make use of digitisation of all documents as an integrated process at each level to facilitate tracking of documents and cases between prosecutors, heads of department and the police.

A good example to draw from is the South African Revenue Service (SARS) and how its systems work; and with vision and imagination if it were applied to information flows and workflows in the justice sector.

The Department of Home Affairs has a value-chain administrative process and could equally benefit from digitisation.

Will the criminal justice sector change without civil society and courts pressure to deliver access to justice for people? What corrective action in managing the backlogs and case load will be taken by the National Prosecuting Authority?

The SAPS has been undergoing changes in its management appointments, new recruitment of personnel, upskilling and training in striving to be a more professional service.

However, policing and the holy cow of decentralised policing need revisiting. We need national standards and better-resourced policing and visibility. Fighting gender-based violence must be prioritised urgently.

The security sector has had enough recommendations from all manner of commissions – the High-Level Review Panel Report (December 2018) and the Expert Panel Report (July 2021), for example – that necessitate speedy implementation.

The seventh administration has to ensure the urgent implementation of the recommendations of the High Level Panel on Intelligence.

Oversight of the security cluster will be key. Hopefully, the multiparty nature of oversight will bring back objectivity. Intelligence needs to build strategic capabilities lest it be overtaken by other countries. The proposed national dialogue provides a good opportunity to discuss a new vision of security.

Independent oversight bodies like the Inspector-General for Intelligence, Independent Police Investigative Directorate and Military Ombudsman must be strengthened and supported by civil society and parliamentary oversight bodies.

A caveat to the criminal justice sector is political parties outside government processes that romanticise violence which is a cover for looting, as has happened in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Angola.

The Border Management Authority has had successes in its law enforcement area, recovering “stolen vehicles, seizing drugs and guns”, together with multiple organs of state.

However, systemic, structural and resource challenges remain. In addition, sources and drivers of migration must be developed in tandem with the African Continental Free Trade Agreement to develop our Continent as the neighbourhood is the homeland.

Our Continent is the hungriest one in the world, afflicted by multiple conflicts recently from Sudan, the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, northern Mozambique, and parts of Cameroon and Somalia.

The journey of building a capable, developmental and effective state and criminal justice sector continues into the 21st century.

The expansion of the state in the GNU and its components necessitate adequate resources to address the difficult terrain that lies ahead to meet the needs of service delivery and a better quality of life for citizens.

* Dr Pingla Udit is a political sociologist

** The views in this article do no necessarily reflect the views of The African