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Troubled tactics

Sep 07 2012 07:36 Mzwandile Jacks

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THE bad news is that several members of Gauteng's tactical response team (TRT) - known as amaBerete (men in berets) - allegedly heartlessly punched, kicked and beat patrons at Shisa Nyama, a famous watering hole in the Vaal township of Sebokeng.

The good news is that a hi-tech camera mounted inside the famous tavern recorded the assault and the videotape has been shown all around the country.

But another piece of bad news is that the same police unit has allegedly been involved in many acts of brutal violence throughout the country since it was launched in 2009.

It was also reportedly part of the police unit that opened fire on striking workers, killing 34 miners at Lonmin's Marikana mine in North West Province almost three weeks ago.

This begs two questions: who are these people, and what is the impact of their brute force on the country's economic development?

Bheki Cele, the former national police commissioner, launched the TRTs to fight housebreakings, bank robberies and cash in transit heists.

These officers are deployed to cluster stations where about 40 to 50 of them look after five or six police stations.

They are highly resourced technically and physically. They undergo physical and technical training every three months.

When one of their members gains weight – even by a kilogram or two - they are removed from the team.

They can be anything up to 35 years of age. And they drive BMWs and Golf GTIs as they are highly mobilised in terms of response.

Cele once told a Gauteng daily newspaper: "None of these members have been picked up dead on the battle field. Officers who have died on duty are from local police stations, not TRT officers."

Cele might have had great intentions with the formation of these units. But their actions have left much to be desired and could cause untold harm to business and economic development.

Police violence, like any other type of violence, has a significantly negative impact on economic development.

Throughout the world, police tactics and roles are increasingly entwined with economic development and private investment objectives. This should be the case in South Africa.

Show me any prudent investor who would like to invest their money in a country whose police force brutalises its citizens.

They will not invest at all, because they know for a fact that left unaddressed, police brutality could lead to huge instability in the nation. And instability is not good for anyone's money.

Countries now compete to establish themselves as safe, investment-friendly consumer centres, with the containment of all forms of violence having become priority number one.

They deal with all forms of violence, including that which is perpetrated by police forces.

As this country's police brutality was recently flighted on South Africa's free-to-air news channel, eNCA, there is no doubt that some London-based investors saw this and could take a negative position on the country.

And this economy will face the likelihood of continuing to shed jobs instead of creating them. eNCA is now beamed also in London, home to many high-powered investor think-tanks.

How can these units apply themselves without being too violent?

More than ever before, police participation in the community should extend to the provision and regulation of social services, neighbourhood development initiatives and schools.

Factors that contribute to crime and violence function at multiple levels. These include the individual, family and peer group, community and society.

So no single intervention, no matter how well designed and executed, will solve the problem.

South Africa's newly-formed tactical units rely on old, reactive policing models. There is ample room to improve results by shifting to problem-orientated policing using modern information systems.

 - Fin24


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