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Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa on Wednesday described Robert McBride as a person above muster with a “very clear insight of what’s expected, but also understanding of the challenges”.
McBride is up for the position of head of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.
ANC MPs on the parliamentary police committee used their majority in favour of McBride, against opposition dissent, to ensure the controversial former Ekurhuleni metro police boss – and one-time diplomat – was endorsed for the top job of policing the police.
“We want him like yesterday,” Mthethwa told journalists after a two-hour committee debate touching on the scriptures, racism, the need to build a united South Africa to overcome apartheid divisions, and concerns over McBride’s postgraduate policing qualification, ultimately resolved as being an appropriate four-year degree by the South African Qualifications Authority (Saqa).
However, it is not clear when McBride will take office. Wednesday’s committee decision still needs the final nod from the National Assembly at a plenary sitting – and the first such opportunity is on February 25, according to the latest available parliamentary programme.
Opposition parties opposed McBride for the job.
DA MP Dianne Kohler Barnard said the job requirements had been tailored: “That the advertisement for the post had the necessity for a legal qualification excised speaks to a pre-determined outcome as it was seemingly tailored to McBride’s CV”.
IFP MP Velaphi Ndlovu later said the party rejected the endorsement because “not only will public perception of the police be further tainted, but now McBride will be given the power to investigate the very people who investigated him for his drunk driving case”.
Freedom Front Plus MP Pieter Groenewald said the endorsement was “a slap in the face of the public” and a sign that the interests of the public were subservient to those of the ANC, as McBride was “extremely controversial”.
McBride, who received amnesty from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for his role in the apartheid-era Magoo’s Bar bombing, successfully appealed against a 2011 drunk driving conviction.
While he has been embroiled in several controversies since 1998, including a brief arrest in Mozambique on allegations of gun running, assault and alleged friendship ties with the criminal underworld, none ever resulted in criminal charges.
Mthethwa remained unconvinced of the criticism – and his nominee, approved by the cabinet late last year, carried the day in the police committee.
“The position itself needs a fearless leader,” he told journalists, also pointing out that the post had been filled in an acting capacity for more than a year.
“We have a strong leader who is able to deal with challenges.”
Commenting on the deaths of eight people in community protests about service delivery countrywide, Mthethwa said the perception that some police members believed themselves to be above the law would be dealt with.
There was no single case that was not being investigated, he added.
“We want to dispel that and we are confident the candidate we have chosen (McBride) will do that,” he said.
However, the DA, ACDP and the Freedom Front Plus raised concerns over McBride’s suitability for the job because of the controversies he was involved in, while ACDP leader Kenneth Meshoe raised a possible conflict of interest in that he would be a former policeman having to police the police.
Kohler Barnard said the nomination was the latest example of cadre deployment, arguing that McBride had shown “he is deeply embedded in the ANC and loyal to the ANC”.
But ANC MP Setlamorago Thobejane reacted sharply, saying she was “racist”, as similar concerns were not raised when the head of the previous police watchdog, the Independent Complaints Director Francois Beukman was under consideration.
Police committee chairwoman Annelize van Wyk intervened several times and delayed the vote on McBride’s endorsement until written proof was submitted showing his four-year Technical University of Tshwane degree met legally required standards.