Kathleen Ndongmo: Waving the Defenceless Flag (YNaija FrontPage)

Of course it’s easier to preach non-lethal methods than to enforce them. But isn’t that what separates us from the professionals?

Have you seen the video of the Lonmin miners getting shot? Heard outraged comparisons between this massacre and the killing of Andries Tatane, the unarmed SA man who was beaten and shot dead by police last April? Or noticed the linking of the Marikana tragedy with Tiananmen Square? Is that too hyperbolic? Is it the same thing? Not as bad? Worse? Pick one.

Because right now all we have are questions, we’re having to come up with our own answers. From behind keyboards and TV screens we’re stewing in righteous anger and will continue to do so for a few days. Then something else will flirt with our fickle interest and that’ll be that. But, while were here, another question…How did it come to this?

So far, the list of accused culprits is as diverse as it is ridiculous:

The dead miners
The surviving miners
The unions
The police
Supporters of abortion

The last three come compliment of Errol Naidoo, who blames “abortion-on-demand”, “radical feminists” and homosexuals for South Africa’s “culture of death”.

How did it come to this?

Well, this is Africa. It is the land where firemen turn up without water to extinguish blazes. It is the land where heads of state run national healthcare systems into the ground then flee to international pastures when they themselves fall ill. And yes, it is the land where riot police turn up to deal with raging mobs sans riot gear. This IS Africa.

There questions and more questions:

  • Who authorized the use of live ammunition?
  • How come the miners’ conditions and wages are so appalling that they felt they had no other choice?
  • What was the deal the South African authorities signed with the British mining company?
  • Did it include a clause to “screw local staff out of the dignity of a fair wage and tolerable working conditions”?

A year ago, we had the London riots. I remember the Brits’ anguish over whether or not to use water cannons. The idea was initially vetoed by Home Secretary, Theresa May, because “the way we (in Britain) police is by consent.” Then they hummed and hawed over the use of rubber bullets to disperse the most violent of the crowds. Eventually, when the rioters ran out of phone credit and the looters out of steam, the uprising fizzled out.

But I remember the discussion. Because there was one. A range of options, using varying levels of force – none of it lethal – were proposed / accepted / rejected based on intelligent reasoning. A bunch of badly trained, ill-prepared policemen, armed with deadly assault rifles and a very real fear for their lives weren’t thrust up against an angry mob of machete-wielding mutineers.

After the Tatane killing, a memo by Elias Mawela, of the police’s operational response unit, emerged. In it, Mawela reinforced negotiation as the first option to quell escalating unrest. Failing that: stun grenades. Then a water cannon. Then teargas. Nowhere does it say, “Open fire and shoot indiscriminately”.

Of course it’s easier to preach non-lethal methods than to enforce them. But isn’t that what separates us from the professionals? When you sign up for law enforcement, you know it won’t all be cookies and gentlemanly conduct. Why did these police officers not temporarily retreat until reinforcements, or the proper gear, arrived? Why did they have no non-lethal alternatives available? And why is virtually the first public comment by Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega “Don’t be sorry about what happened”?

It seems to me that we can talk about the desperate need for economic reform in South Africa. Or we can talk about a spectacular failure of policing.

But, assuming it takes a lot longer to reverse the effects of hundreds of years of colonialism and rebalance the commercial landscape in favour of the black South African majority: Shouldn’t someone get a massive and immediate reform of policing practices underway now? You know, before Marikana 2.0.


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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