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Changing positions, but not attitudes

Opinion
Now that one time sports minister Fikile Mbalula is minister of police, Kevin Ritchie doesn't know whether to laugh or cry.

You have to love old Razzmatazz, our one time sports minister, Fikile Mbalula, who as you read this has been minister of police for just over a week.

To be honest, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. He was unforgettable as sports minister – in fact, there were times when was more sport than the national teams themselves; from his exhortations to the Springboks: “moer hulle” as they departed to a world cup or his unconsummated passion for Beyoncé. Then there was his friendship with Floyd Mayweather Jr, to the chagrin of the DA desperate to see if the taxpayer had funded the minister’s jaunt to Las Vegas to be ringside for the most expensive title fight in history.

He would get himself into unspeakable Twars with everyone from journalists to fans, his ministry’s press statements were inadvertently hysterical – every time. But then, he went off and got himself a real job.

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File photo: Fikile Mbalula

It wasn’t long before his itchy digits started playing across his touch screen, “Am here for you guys REPORT crime am here Let’s goooooooooooooooooo!" And then, “I want all of you who follow me support my efforts (sic) REPORT crime on my inbox. #WanyaTsotsi #JindaTsotsi."

For the monolinguals among you, Wanya Tsotsi is about as unrepeatable in polite conversation as “moer hulle”, even if the intention is laudable. But Motormouth Mbaks has never been put off by the niceties in social conventions.

The wags on social media got stuck into his invitation, there were people reporting their unemployed uncles for eating their polony, others wondering if he’d fly out washed up Hollywood stars (like the cast of Police Academy) to speak to new recruits and so it went.

It’s all good fun and, in all probability, he might well have got people talking and thinking about crime and the need to report it and stick with it all the way through including going to the charge office (sorry, Customer Centre) and opening a docket and making an affidavit, even appearing in court as a witness.

The problem though is that like all Mbak’s utterances, there’s never a filter, even less an off button. By Tuesday it was there for all to see.

Moved to greater heights of eloquence at a special parade of police officers to welcome him to the service, Mbaks couldn’t resist. Cops and criminals, he said, would be like “chalk and cheese”. “Officers must fight fire with fire.”

Just in case he was misunderstood, he added, “No police officer will die in vain; anyone who kills a police officer will be met with fire. I am not saying shoot-to-kill, but shoot back. You have guns; use them to protect yourselves and communities.”

There’s the problem. That little nuance will be lost in the heat of a gunfight.

Former national police commissioner Bheki Cele never said shoot-to-kill either, but he alluded to it all the time – so much so that his tenure became synonymous with it.

Here’s an example from our files – eight years ago, “If somebody uses a camera to shoot you, smile. But when they use anything else to shoot you, use deadly force before anybody uses it – and don’t miss It has been said that I say ‘shoot to kill’. I have never used that term. But I have told the police they must use a deadly force.

“I am not rewriting the constitution, but someone must define human rights to me when it comes to a criminal who has got into a house and raped a six-year-old or an 11-year-old,” Cele said to applause, adding that the rights of criminals should fall under animal rights

The speeches might have been written by the same person. You know, it’s s***s and giggles until it’s not – and the body bags are lying in front of you and only one is the alleged criminal, the rest just happened to be in the way.

We have a problem with criminality in this country, but you can’t solve it by chucking more people in jail – and giving them a Master’s in advanced criminality to do what they’re doing but not get caught next time.

You don’t solve it by putting more badly paid and worse trained cops on the beat, not when you turn a blind eye to "money for cooldrinks", dockets going missing in court and evidence getting tampered with because the justice system is creaking fit to collapse.

And you certainly don’t solve it by creating a culture where everything is rendered in cartoon like swathes of black and white; good guys and bad guys, cops and robbers, shoot to kill.

We’ve had decades of police shooting to defend themselves.

The worst was Sharpeville. That was the excuse. Badly trained cops got spooked by the throngs of unarmed protesters chanting as they approached them.

Then we had Marikana.

The war against crime is a serious matter, it affects us all, but we have to play by the rules. We don’t need a police "force" – we need a police "service".

Encouraging cops to shoot first and ask questions later, apart from the body count, is just a way of excusing and encouraging sloppy policing, like corporal punishment in the classroom to enforce "discipline" is an excuse to protect insecure and substandard teachers.

We need our police to be better trained and better paid. The prosecutors could do with the same too, but most of all we need a society that outlaws criminals, that doesn’t see them as Robin Hoods, but criminals threatening the very fabric of that which we hold dear.

But then that would mean reporting on crimes we can see right at the top, but no one wants to act on that, minister.

Saturday Star

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