South Africa hails police shake-up

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South Africans yesterday welcomed the promise that a multi-racial team would clean up the police, one the most hated bastions of the apartheid era and still one of the institutions most impervious to the changes sweeping the country. Their task from 1 April will be daunting, not helped by the outgoing police leadership's determination to cover up its past role, to seek indemnity from prosecution and also to pick up golden handshakes.

They have little to boast about. South Africa has one of the world's highest crime and murder rates, with an average 50 criminal deaths a day in 1994. Anybody who can afford it employs private security firms.

The police are bitterly divided along racial and provincial lines, officers are still promoted by seniority, not merit, and the force is hugely.undermanned. "The police service must make a clean break with the past," said the incoming police chief, George Fivaz.

Political parties and most newspapers welcomed the appointment on Sunday of the 49-year-old Afrikaner from the Orange Free State. The right-wing National Party said that it could work with him "to help combat the wave of crime in our country." The liberal Democratic Party said he was the right choice to restore rock-bottom police morale.

"He's approved of. If you're going to change the police, you've got to have somebody with the right attitude," said Jan Munnik, an independent barrister monitoring complaints against police actions.

Mr Fivaz's said that he would not wear the military police uniform until a civilian dress code had been decided, that he was determined to wipe out racism and militarism and that he wanted negotiations, not violence, in labour disputes.

South Africans were shocked on Friday when television stations showed a divisive scene they had hoped belonged to the past. A mostly white police Internal Stability Unit fired on black policemen who had gone on strike and barricaded themselves in their police station in Soweto. They killed one policeman and wounded four.

Controversy still rages over the question of blanket political amnesties applied for by 3,500 policemen and two former ministers just before the first non-racial elections were held. The last say will be had by the courts and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Debate began in parliament in CapeTown yesterday on the commission's parameters.