The recent outbreak of violence against foreigners highlights the weakness of the South African Police Service’s (SAPS) crime intelligence unit, which is responsible for detecting the stirrings of such attacks before they occur, according to a security expert.
Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said that the justice and security cluster was now working on improving the police force’s intelligence-driven operations.
However, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies Johan Burger said the SAPS had “failed miserably” to see what was ahead when the attacks began.
“The response from the police at first was poor because their crime intelligence unit was unable to apprehend ringleaders of the violence in time.
“Because of this they were outnumbered and unable to execute their constitutional duties.
“It was only after a reaction from the public, the media and the governments of other African countries that we saw an increase in pressure and police presence.
“The SAPS’s crime intelligence unit failed miserably to detect that [the violence] was in the process of developing.
“It is their responsibility to pick up any signs of xenophobic outbreaks and then pass the information on to police leadership to carry out its primary response to prevent (the violence) from happening.
“I understand that the crime intelligence unit is still in the process of correcting themselves, but they were not capable of detecting the impending xenophobic attacks.”
He said although it was the first time the government departments that made up the justice and security cluster had spoken out about the matter, he was grateful that they were now doing so.
“Why did they wait until there was a huge public outcry? Anyway, the number of arrests made now that they have responded is reassuring.
“We now have large numbers (of police present) and compared to the violent xenophobic attacks in 2008 they have been able to keep the deaths lower, from 69 to 12.
“We are not in a position where it is over yet, but it is now contained. It is still critical that it took them as long as it did (to respond), but they were still able to eventually contain the violence without help from the military, as happened in 2008.”