The best of South African literature
I hear rumblings from certain quarters that, in my first 15 months as national commissioner, I have failed the SAPS and therefore I should walk.
If that is so, then I have news for you.
I am not only walking, I am marching.
In fact, I am beginning to pick up the pace and I’m now marching briskly towards the goal we have set for the police.
That goal is laying the foundation for a complete overhaul and transformation of the SAPS, and gearing it towards attaining the ideals and aspirations outlined in our country’s constitution.
But before I talk about some of the reforms being introduced, let me first deal with the noise-makers.
To reduce the issue of Major-General Mondli Zuma’s withdrawn promotion to merely being embarrassed or owing the public an apology is trivialising the matter and missing the point entirely.
I believe the citizens of this country understand that I inherited a huge organisation with massive problems.
Everyone wants swift action from their national commissioner, particularly as it relates to issues of misconduct by police officers.
I have done nothing less and will not compromise on issues of integrity.
I have also heard many South Africans saying to me that the current processes, as they relate to establishing the bona fides of employees – that is, checking for criminal records, pending disciplinary charges and self-declarations of employees before promoting them – are not sufficient.
As the organisation’s accounting officer, I have taken particular note of this shortfall.
I have directed that the policy be amended so that an event of this nature should not happen again.
I would like to alert South Africans to the fact that, as I transform this organisation, many transgressions of compliance with our regulations will surface. Be assured that they will be dealt with speedily and transparently.
In line with the current SAPS prescripts, it was not deemed necessary to conduct a detailed search, particularly noting that the people being promoted or transferred are senior executives, who are loyal and hard-working career police officers, well-respected, and had established relationships of trust with the SAPS and with myself as the national commissioner.
In the case of Major-General Zuma, at the very least, requisite background checks aside, he should have been frank with me.
I have further instructed that the process of upgrading and enhancing a profiling system, the Global Access Control System (GACS), be accelerated.
Among other things, this system enables the organisation to establish the status of pending criminal investigations and prosecutions.
In the future, all promotions and transfers, particularly at senior executive level, will include a GACS check.
When we appoint someone from outside the police, these checks are conducted before enlistment into the SAPS.
My initiation into the service was not ideal.
The departure of the two previous national commissioners resulted in a huge impact on the psyche of the organisation.
In addition, the SAPS is an agglomeration of 11 different police organisations.
Somewhere along the way, and almost inevitably, transformation and integration fell off the priority list.
We need to reverse this and build a common culture.
In a country with so many socio-economic problems, including exposure to violence, one can expect that difficulties will emerge with police officers coming from these affected communities.
When the heartbreak of Mido Macia emerged in Daveyton, showing the inexcusable conduct of police officers, I did exactly the same thing. I acted.
While the courts and our internal disciplinary processes must still pronounce their verdicts, I am sure we all acknowledge that such conduct is totally unacceptable.
I also took decisive action when a similar incident took place in Mahikeng.
Although I had not been appointed then, the case of the police and Andries Tatane and other protesters is symptomatic of our social discord.
However, the court considered the matter and made a ruling.
What we have learnt from this tragedy, and from others such as Marikana, informs continuous improvement in our crowd management procedures.
We still need to communicate better with the public on crowd management.
Regardless of any issues, no one, the police included, is a law unto themselves.
Where our members err, the government has established the Independent Police Investigative Directorate to ensure that appropriate disciplinary or legal action is taken against officers who are believed to have transgressed.
Although this police oversight exists, it is not yet working fully as intended.
However, I save further comment on this issue for another day.
The police are continually called in to deal with countrywide protests because of service delivery issues, labour unrest and social crimes such as gangsterism and drugs.
When these issues are highlighted, as was done recently in the Western Cape, some find it is easier to blame the police, rather than addressing the social ills.
This results in the political expediency of calling on me to step down.
I would like to focus on all those communities out there that act as our eyes and ears.
I appreciate their social activism and I encourage them to bring incidents of police misconduct to my attention so that I can deal with them.
Wouldn’t it also be nice to tweet when you come across one of our helpful and committed police officers?
To address another area of considerable public concern, I will be setting up an anti-corruption unit within the next six months. The terms of reference are almost complete and the unit will strengthen current efforts, under which more than 500 officers are dismissed annually.
I am in the process of streamlining our head office.
I have reduced the deputy national commissioners from six to three and realigned functions, so that we can work together as a team.
This is releasing resources that are needed at police station level, many of which are inadequately resourced and managed.
I will also be appointing deputy station commanders across all the stations to allow station commanders to focus on policing work, while their deputies manage administration, finances and effective manning of the precinct.
At the moment, each station has a head of detectives, head of visible policing and head of support services.
I am now in the process of strengthening these functions with a head for community service centres (formerly the charge offices).
I am determined to ensure that people receive professional service when they come to report their complaints.
The SAPS will continue to face significant challenges such as inefficiency, corruption, ill-discipline and high levels of crime in society. I have committed to working with the police, communities and all stakeholders to face these challenges.
I will neither back down nor run away when things get difficult.
We welcome the feedback and appreciate that everyone cares about the work we do.
I have embarked on this tough and thankless journey of transforming this well-resourced organisation.
Along the path there will be bumps; I may trip, but I want to assure all South Africans that nothing, absolutely nothing, will deter me and my team from accomplishing the mission we have set.
I appeal to everyone to give me and all the loyal men and women in blue a chance to reform the SAPS.
With a force of 200 000 it won’t happen overnight, but with everyone’s support, the road can be smoothed and the journey shortened.
- Phiyega is the national police commissioner.