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Any decision about promotion or elevation to one of the highest offices of the SAPS must today be made in light of the reality that within the police it has finally been acknowledged that there are convicted murderers, rapists and thieves. Not one of them has been fired.
Since 2007, from my position on the police portfolio committee, I have been calling for clarity on oft-repeated claims that convicted felons worked within the SAPS. The audit undertaken bizarrely stopped in 2010, but nonetheless revealed that a major-general, 10 brigadiers, 21 colonels, 43 lieutenant-colonels, 10 majors, 163 captains and 706 warrant officers had been found guilty of most terrible offences.
In light of the admission that 1 448 members of the police have convictions, how could it be possible that the national police commissioner made appointments without checking whether or not those she chose for higher office were part of this batch (which has yet to include the felons of 2011 and last year)?
Most of these criminals committed their crimes as members of the SAPS, and the majority of them have been promoted up the ranks.
These convictions were not made yesterday, most go back many years, and yet no disciplinary action has been taken. None under the disgraced Jackie Selebi, none under the disgraced Bheki Cele, and none under the current national police commissioner.
When this information was grudgingly released, the SAPS assured the nation that in future the police intended to vet all recruits far more closely, so that felons could no longer join the service. This statement had to be made because it had become clear that for years felons joined the SAPS, and committed crimes while within the SAPS – many of them committing more than one crime.
Yet scant days after this assurance, the NPC announced a veritable gallery of rogues in her restructuring of the SAPS.
While we know that not one officer has been arrested for the Marikana shootings, and that we have watched Andries Tatane die, and Mido Macia dragged behind a van to his death, the problem seems to be that none of this is taken seriously by the top brass.
I do not believe that this list of 1 448 is at all reflective of the reality of the SAPS today. False ID documents, false fingerprints and lies have covered much of the criminality, and of course this figure does not speak to those thousands who face criminal charges.
Possibly the most startling of the appointments was that of Gauteng police commissioner Major-General Bethuel Zuma – currently facing drunk driving charges as well as charges for escaping lawful custody and defeating the ends of justice.
It took me 10 minutes to do a search on the man, and unearth the unsavoury truth. Shortly after my statement was released, the NPC was forced the humiliation of having to reverse her decision.
However, Zuma isn’t the only one the DA has a problem with. The newly appointed Free State police commissioner Lieutenant General Simon Mpembe – reportedly bought a brand new white BMW X5 and had it resprayed black for official duties at a cost of thousands to the SAPS, purely because he couldn’t wait a few weeks for a black one to be available.
Then there is Limpopo police commissioner Lieutenant General Fannie Masemola – who reportedly bought a fleet of 140 new vehicles at a cost of R3 million for various police units just so that the crime intelligence budget could be spent.
Added to this, the fact that the new deputy national commissioner, Christabel Mbekela, had been grilled by the portfolio committee when it was revealed that she had been in the process of creating a Police University for the last three years without seeking Parliament’s approval which involved numerous overseas trips and a secret budget. The first time the portfolio committee on police heard of the university was last month despite planning being at an advanced stage.
What went wrong? I cannot stomach claims that the NPC is being targeted or undermined because of her gender. If she can’t take the heat she must get out of the kitchen.
This reshuffle had presented an opportunity to restore public confidence in the SAPS, and to go some small way to clearing the good name of the thousands of excellent officers who would take a bullet for any one of us.
She had what may prove to be her final opportunity to stand up and be counted, yet she managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
My calls for a career police officer to be carefully chosen to lead our SAPS have been ignored, and today we are once again an international laughing stock. This blunder showed that this civilian dressed as a police officer is totally out of her depth and is taking the SAPS down with her.
One has to ask though: why is there surprise being expressed?
Throughout the Marikana crisis she has shown her lack of knowledge of policing and failed to acknowledge the police’s responsibility in the death of 34 people going as far as to say that they did not kill them. She has failed to address police brutality. She has failed to rectify the resourcing crisis in the SAPS; a single example of which found stations running out of rape kits earlier this year and riot gear taking months to be delivered to stations. Richard Mdluli remains on suspension year after expensively paid year on her watch with disciplinary proceedings yet to take place and the Crime Intelligence Unit in tatters. And she has failed utterly to take decisive action following the SAPS criminality audit and has not dismissed a single member found to have a criminal record.
Commissioner Phiyega was hired because of her much-vaunted managerial skills and on this basis she should be fired for her clear lack thereof. Phiyega has shown her amateurish knowledge of policing throughout the Marikana crisis and now it appears that she lacks managerial skills too. During this debacle she first claimed that SAPS background checks are more stringent than most organisations. Then when I revealed that this was clearly not the case, she backtracked even further on his appointment by saying that these appointments had been “provisional”. Nonsense.
Here South Africa is 20 years into democracy, and instead of a police service we admire and aspire to join, we’ve gone back to the dark days when it was a force best known for bludgeoning and murdering anti-apartheid activists.
Today, because Selebi was too wrapped up in his own criminal enterprises, and Cele was so desperate to meet the Fifa World Cup targets for policing numbers, we are left with officers scooped up in untold hundreds without background checks. South Africans no longer trust the police – and with good reason.
While the most basic checks are simply not done by those at the top, the evidence before us shows that every officer must be grilled. Suggesting that an order went out that all police with criminal records, or the possibility of one, must admit to such, is absurd. They have failed for decades to admit to their convictions, and there is no honour among thieves, or murderers or rapists.
The fact alone that Richard Mdluli still sits at home on full pay should tell every South African all they need to know about how seriously the SAPS takes issues of criminality. All the actions reported on in relation to this suspended head of Crime Intelligence, have evaporated.
And that alone, Madam National Police Commissioner, should have told you to do your homework. Sadly you didn’t, and you scored yet another F.
- Kohler Barnard is shadow minister of police for the DA.