South African Police refuse to act against criminals targeting 'foreign truck drivers' - top judge wants action

The South African Police Service has been taken to task by a senior judge over persistent complaints that they fail to act and enforce the law. In an astonishing claim, the police are said to refuse to intervene, even faced with clearly criminal activity, ‘until a court directs them to take action’. The judge president of the Mpumalanga division of the high court, Frans Legodi, said litigants raised similar difficulties in court every week. Photographs from the two latest matters showed police standing by but doing nothing to prevent crimes involving in protest against 'foreign truck drivers'. One of the parties in these two cases said when he asked the SAPS for help, he was told that he should ‘firstly procure a court order to enable the SAPS to come to (their) assistance.’ The JP said it was not clear whether the problem lay with the training given to the police or whether it was ‘just dereliction of duty’ by individuals. Problems experienced with police inaction were often reported in areas ‘where mining activities are very high’. He had therefore written a judgment on the behaviour of the police that would be sent to the provincial police commission to consider a proper investigation.

Read judgment (PDF)

Problems of deliberate police inaction in the face of criminal thuggery are often reported in the mining areas of Mpumalanga, according to the province’s Judge President, Frans Legodi. In a new decision dealing with two cases before him, Legodi said the problem had become a feature of the weekly urgent motion roll. Urgent applications were made accusing the police of refusing to intervene even when faced by ‘clear criminal activity’, unless they received a court order directing them to act. This attitude by the police was wrong and would encourage lawlessness, he said.

In the latest matters before him, he had granted the urgent orders, but also ordered supplementary affidavits to be filed. Now that he had read the additional material, he had found it necessary ‘to write a judgment dealing with the complaints made against the police.’

One company, iMpangele Logistics, is a transport company that moves coal, chrome, lime and sand, among others. The second is Mbali Coal, based in Witbank.

'Foreign' drivers

Both complained of interruption to their work, hijacking of their vehicles, threats to staff and other illegal activities. In the case of iMpangele Logistics, members of the All Truck Drivers’ Foundation (ATDF), targeted their trucks and staff. This was part of their demand that all ‘foreign’ drivers should be barred from driving trucks. ATDF members impounded, detained or otherwise obstructed trucks; they trespassed onto the property and threatened to burn and damage the vehicles.

A number of photographs were included for the court, showing that the SAPS were at the scene but did not act even when it was obvious that the ATDF members were hi-jacking vehicles. Also shown on the photographs, taken from inside the truck cabin, were armed members of the ATDF in the act of forcing the driver to block the road. Another photograph showed a driver, who refused to give in to the ATDF threats, being threatened while his truck was stoned and the windscreen damaged. The last picture mentioned by the court shows two people driving in the truck cabin. Neither is an employee, and one was armed with the same weapon used to hi-jack the truck.

Criminal activities

These were all clearly criminal activities, and should have been acted on as a priority by the police, said the JP.

Reacting to the reported comments by the police that management should first get a court order before the SAPS would act, Legodi said it was not the responsibility of the courts to ‘prevent, combat and investigate crimes.’ Nor was it the function of the courts to ‘maintain public order, secure the inhabitants and their property’. The constitution gave this power to the police.

One affidavit spoke about approaching the police at the Middelburg police station in connection with another incident, but the police ‘simply refused even to open a docket and investigate the matter’.

Someone was not doing their job, said the judge and it was necessary that the provincial police commission investigate the complaints raised in these two cases.

Promoted crime

Repeated hi-jacking of trucks was not surprising. The ATDF got away with taking the law into their own hands in August 2019 and so they did the same in September, ‘still with no consequences’. In his opinion, if police stood back and took no action it promoted crime instead of combatting it.

The Imbali case was no different. Again, a large group of people threatened people, damaged property, equipment and vehicles. When management asked the police to intervene, they were told that they were short-staffed and without vehicles.

The staff and vehicles were said to have gone to Ogies (another mining town) to ‘control unrest’ there.

Common to refuse help

It had become common for police to refuse to help, citing inadequate resources, said Imbali management. It was also common for police to refuse to arrest the perpetrators, even when they were indentified. Imbali therefore asked that the court should ‘encourage’ the stations commanders of SAPS to ‘perform their duties’.

Legodi said letting people take the law into their own hands on the grounds that there were too few staff or vehicles would ‘never be a justification in law’. Contingency arrangements had to be made in time of need.

As for ‘encouraging’ the police to do their duty, the court was mindful of maintaining the separation of powers. It was for the provincial commissioner of SAPS – and not the courts – to encourage members to do their duty. ‘It is for this reason that these matters have to be brought to the attention of the commissioner.

Legodi said there was clearly a cry for help by those for felt the police were not doing their job, and he hoped the provincial commissioner would hear it. He ordered that his judgment should be brought to the attention of the commissioner who would then consider an inquiry.

* Over the last six months, criminal action aimed at paralysing the trucking industry in South Africa and flushing out 'foreign drivers' has been a serious problem in various parts of SA. As the JP pointed out, the areas most affected include the provinces where mining is most intense. 

'A matter of justice', Legalbrief