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Former national police commissioner Bheki Cele responds to “the latest rant” by (DA minister of police) Dianne Kohler Barnard.
Johannesburg - For all of the three years that I served as national police commissioner, the SAPS and I were subjected to an almost daily barrage of insults from (DA minister of police) Dianne Kohler Barnard.
At the time, I could not respond to her without running the risk of being accused of furthering the interests of my political party, the ANC, in violation of Section 46(1)(d) of the SAPS Service Act.
In her latest rant, “Police commissioner is out of her depth and she’s taking the whole SAPS down with her” (September 8), Kohler Barnard goes out of her way to attack my predecessor, Jackie Selebi, and I to make up for the fact that an attack on General Riah Phiyega alone would not be enough to achieve her ultimate goal of undermining the ANC.
Reading this article and every other statement that she has ever issued about the challenges facing the SAPS, you would swear that the SAPS was only established with Selebi’s appointment in 2000.
Whether she is talking about the challenge of police officers who lack basic policing competencies, or those who believe that policing always entails the use of force, or those who have criminal records, she always ignores the reality that the vast majority of these officers were inherited from the 11 apartheid-era police forces that were amalgamated to form the SAPS back in 1995.
Exactly how Selebi and I can be blamed for the recruitment by these police forces of an army of kitskonstabels, most of whom had no qualifications other than their passion for crushing the limbs of political activists and had only undergone a few weeks of police training, only the revisionist minds of Kohler Barnard and her ideological bedfellows within the ranks of the security think tanks can tell.
These are the same bigoted minds that never stop to objectively assess the extent to which the blame for the SAPS’s failure to deal with this shameful legacy can be laid at the door of the first commissioner of the SAPS, General George Fivaz.
If Kohler Barnard was capable of honest historical analysis, she would readily admit to the reality that has remained suppressed all these years, thanks to the monopoly that she and her ilk enjoy in the media – that Selebi, his infamy arising from his criminal conviction notwithstanding, was the best administrator who ever sat behind the national police commissioner’s desk since the establishment of the SAPS.
When Selebi took office in 2000 he was confronted with an apartheid-era policing behemoth that was still largely intact in both its structure and its mode of operation.
By the time I took over from him, the SAPS had been transformed into an integrated unit with a single command post.
Yes, the organisation was, and still is, afflicted by the clandestine and corrupt apartheid-era operational culture that Kohler Barnard and her ilk routinely trumpet to justify their call for the appointment of a “career” (read, apartheid-era) policeman as commissioner.
I have no doubt though that, had I been allowed to finish my term of office, we would have succeeded in our quest to rid the SAPS of this culture. Contrary to what some would want the nation to believe, many of the initiatives that have recently been launched by General Phiyega, such as the establishment of the anti-corruption unit within the SAPS and the devolution of decision-making authority to station commissioners, were conceived and approved on my watch.
Kohler Barnard’s charge that I was unsuitable for appointment as national police commissioner completely disregards the fact that I was one of a select group of South Africans, including the world-renowned policing expert from the Institute of Security Studies, Dr Johan Burger, who received advanced policing training at the Civil Service College and Scotland Yard in the UK in 1994.
She also disregards the fact that, from that time until my appointment as police commissioner, I never served in any other capacity except as a political overseer of the SAPS in KwaZulu-Natal.
How she comes to believe that this background, together with my background before then as a community activist and trained soldier of Umkhonto we Sizwe, rendered me an unsuitable national police commissioner, only she can tell.
Interestingly, she has no problem believing that her lifetime experience as a loudhailer for apartheid propaganda at the SABC qualifies her to dictate how the SAPS should go about doing its work.
If ever proof was needed that Kohler Barnard’s rants against the SAPS have never been informed by the principles that are enshrined in our country’s constitution, it would be found in the fact that, while she was always quick to latch on to and publicise every instance of suspicion of wrongdoing by black members of the SAPS that I reported to parliament’s portfolio committee on police, she routinely ignored all the cases I reported where the implicated officers happened to be white.
One case that immediately comes to mind is that of a particular division within the SAPS where a husband reported to his wife and the couple’s daughter, who allegedly had only a matric qualification, was retained as a technical consultant at a cost of R1 million a month.
The other case that arose after my axing is that of the members of the Durban Organised Crime Unit, who have been accused (nonsensically, in my view) of being a hit-squad.
I have no doubt in my mind that, had the make-up of this unit been predominantly black, not a day would have gone by without Kohler Barnard issuing a statement demanding that they be fired and that I be charged along with them.
As matters stand, all she preoccupies herself with is issuing inane statements branding me as a “disgraced” former police commissioner while maintaining a deafening silence on cases where the implicated parties happen to be white.
Which brings me to the question that both she and her army of parrots in the media have never bothered to answer: how exactly did I come to be characterised as a “disgraced” former national police commissioner?
Is it because of a sustained unscrupulous media campaign to prop up a discredited story claiming that I signed a lease for office accommodation with a friend of mine, without going out to tender?
Or is it because of the public protector’s finding that I failed to ensure that officials in the SAPS supply-chain management division conducted themselves in accordance with the law when they requisitioned the procurement of new SAPS headquarters in Durban and Pretoria from the Department of Public Works?
Or is it because of the mere fact that I was fired by the president of the republic, following the recommendations of a deeply flawed report that I am challenging in court?
Fortunately for me, it does not really matter whether or not Kohler Barnard ever bothers to answer this question.
This is because ordinary South Africans, both black and white, have always seen right through the duplicity of the attempt to convict me of the charge of corruption in the court of public opinion.
This is despite the fact that not a single piece of evidence can be found to back up this charge.
It is for this reason that an overwhelming majority of the delegates at the ANC’s Mangaung conference re-elected me, in absentia, to the party’s national executive committee (NEC).
As (I am now) an ordinary politician who is free from the restrictions of being a policeman, Kohler Barnard can rest assured that her insults will no longer be going unchallenged.
* Bheki Cele is a former national police commissioner and member of the ANC’s national executive committee.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.