“We were no more than a postbox… we could not rapidly reply to complaints,” department head Gilbert Lawrence testified.
He recounted how he and his officials clashed with the SA Police Service on the interpretation of their oversight role in policing.
Section 206 (3) allows provinces to monitor police conduct and play an oversight role. Lawrence said that prior to 2010, his officials would receive complaints and would ask police for answers.
In addition, his officials would make unannounced visits to police stations in response to complaints from community members.
However, this was not allowed after 2010.
“Our oversight role… required that we should investigate complaints and be able to visit police stations,” Lawrence said.
“The police then said, this is how we interpret it. The net result was that complaints now have to go to a nodal point.”
Lawrence indicated the ability to monitor police and respond to complaints against officers was curtailed.
The department had become a mere postbox for such complaints.
It also lacked jurisdiction in operational matters, which meant police could cite this as a reason for not providing information on complaints.
Operational matters are the day to day crime fighting capabilities of the police.
Norman Arendse, for the police, accused Lawrence of failing to do his job despite having the powers to investigate complaints.
Lawrence said the confusion on what “oversight” meant was causing some of these failures.
“We would like a definitive end to this so we know what we can do or can’t do,” he said.
“The police have tremendous powers. They can take away civil liberties… and they need to be held accountable.”
The commission was set up by Western Cape premier Helen Zille to probe accusations by civil society formations that police inaction was leading to an increase in mob justice killings in the area.
Its activities were delayed for some time when Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa tried to have the inquiry scrapped.
Mthethwa lost his legal bid to stop the commission in the Constitutional Court in October last year.