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Cape Town - Every family has a bad apple about whom they prefer not to talk. Some, more so than others. Major-General Johan Brand is quick to admit that the SAPS family has quite a few of those.
And he says it is imperative that it starts talking about these bad apples and how it is dealing with them, in order to win the trust of the communities it serves.
Brand will soon move offices – just across the divide between Mitchells Plain and Khayelitsha. He has been promoted from brigadier and appointed to head what many people see as one of the most problematic police units in the country – the Khayelitsha police.
His appointment comes after the findings and recommendations of the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry, which investigated vigilantism and ineffective policing in the township.
And although provincial police leadership made certain admissions and commitments during the commission’s hearings, its practical execution will be co-ordinated from Brand’s new chair.
At 46, the career officer appears as energetic and motivated as a man at the beginning of his career, not one who has seen 29 years in a service that has had more than its fair share of controversy.
The open-faced enthusiasm Brand exudes is surprising. But it is clearly born of the inner strength of a man who not only believes in what he is doing, but who believes it is a worthy thing to do.
Brand was born in the Free State and was meant to go on to mechanical engineering when he finished school in 1985. Instead, he followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the police.
“From the beginning, I felt the police offered one a better chance to serve the people, to serve society. And I never looked back,” he said in an interview yesterday.
“I definitely got what I was looking for. It was everything I thought it was and more. Back then already, I said I wanted to get to the rank of general and that was in the apartheid years, before all the changes.
“The fact is, it could be done. I knew I had to stay focused, focused on the job. Be apolitical and do your job and do it well.
“Many people believed it would not be possible. But the fact is, transformation has to happen. The faster you transform, the faster your organisation will return to normal. After all, the past has to be repaired. The police service has to change, it cannot stay the same.”
Asked about career high points, he refers to his time as commander of the Child Protection Unit in Soweto from 1992 to 1996, when the police and the health authorities created a special trauma unit at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital.
And the time from 1996 to 2005, when he was at Athlone and investigations led to the conviction of the notorious Pagad leadership group.
“But over the years I have served under many very good commanders and I learnt from them. In the police you are like a child. You learn instinctively how to walk, but your family around you help you get better at it.
“There are also the many negative things that stand out for me in the police. The Khayelitsha commission is one. Many of the submissions to the commission showed there are certain transformations that had not yet happened in the police that should.
“The commission has not yet made its findings and recommendations known. I am waiting for the final recommendations, because they will indicate the road ahead.
“My first suggestion will then be to set up a steering committee comprising community leaders, civil society organisations and various state bodies and draw up a proper plan of how to address the issues at hand.
“The steering committee will have to oversee the plan, monitor its implementation, determine its efficacy and then oversee adjustments and monitor the implementation of the adjustments.
“I am a community-minded person. I want to have regular communication with the community we will serve. Not a three-hour meeting in a hall, but a talk in a street. That is how I have done it and how I want to do it. That is when you really get to know what the problems are.”
Brand is also adamant that the community needs to be educated about how the legal process works.
“They have to understand that for the police to do something, charges have to be laid, processes have to be followed, witnesses have to come forward. The community has to be vigilant, the community has to be proactive, but then the community has to let us walk up front. We, after all, wear the bullet-proof vests.
“Crime among policemen is much too common… I have no sympathy for a person who should be trusted by the community, but who does not deserve that trust.
“We also have to look after our members who bring the police force forward. A large part of our problems could possibly be avoided by improving our recruitment process. But we must not forget there are many bad apples among the old personnel already. We should stress to our young members they must be careful who they befriend, who they look up to in the service.
“We now have to be open and honest about our problems and how we deal with them. This is how we will win trust. The family has to speak up about its bad apples.”