'Khayelitsha commission needs subpoena powers'

Nathi Mthethwa's lawyers have argued the Khayelitsha inquiry has no power to subpoena cops.

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa's lawyers have argued the Khayelitsha inquiry has no power to subpoena police officers. Picture: Christa van der Walt/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - The Constitutional Court will now have to consider whether the commission of inquiry into police inefficiency in Khayelitsha will still have a purpose if it has no power to subpoena police officers to testify.

The Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry was established by Western Cape Premier Helen Zille in August last year to probe allegations of police inefficiency in Khayelitsha.

It follows an outcry from NGOs about the rise in vigilante killings in the township.

However, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa believes Zille overstepped her powers when she appointed the commission and he has been trying to have it set aside.

At the heart of Mthethwa's argument, is that the inquiry has no power to subpoena police officers.

The minister's advocate Norman Arendse told the court the police officers weren't obligated to comply with the subpoenas because they weren't allowed to disclose information unless they had the authority to do so.

Arendse argued the provincial structures only had overseeing powers and could not subpoena police to answer to complaints by community members. He maintained the police were only obligated to report to national government.

He further argued that the premier side-stepped procedures and should approach the police's civilian secretariat to obtain subpoenas.

Arendse also told the court that the police didn't think they were immune to answering to complaints of inefficiency in Khayelitsha.

However, Zille's lawyer Sean Rosenberg argued the commission of inquiry was not exercising power over the police service.

Rosenberg said if the commission didn't have any "form of subpoena power" the commission "would lack any teeth and it would be indistinguishable, in most instances, from an investigation."

Meanwhile, the Social Justice Coalition (SJC), which is representing the community of Khayelitsha, said it's vital for the inquiry to continue investigating police inefficiency in the area.

"The report of the police task team revealed that there are actually almost 70 vigilante attacks, which means the problem is bigger than what we see and bigger than what we know," said the SJC's General Secretary Phumeza Mlungwana.

A group of SJC members demonstrated outside the court on Tuesday saying the minister wanted to halt the commission in order to conceal the truth about the extent of the problem in Khayelitsha.

The Constitutional Court reserved judgment on Tuesday.