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If we are serious about our security, our police force should not merely be a lair of aggro males, says Makhudu Sefara.
Johannesburg - Crash is an interesting, beautifully choreographed 2004 movie directed by Paul Haggis. It stars Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, Thandie Newton and Ludacris. It’s a movie about people bound to crash, not only literally, into each other and prejudice.
One scene of interest to me (not a policeman who frisks Newton) features Ludacris and a friend who, after carjacking Bullock, head to a chop shop to sell off the car.
The problem is there is some tinge of blood on the car (after they knocked down a Chinese man) and the scrapshop owner shares with them a brief story. It’s about how fascinated he has been with the TV programme CSI (Crime Scene Investigation). And how those investigators once busted a criminal using a tiny bit of evidence. And then he asked the pair: “Do I look like I want to be on CSI? Get the f*** off my property.”
It was such a poignant, reassuring scene to watch. It gives you a sense that when people who have a modicum of respect for the law know that the possibility exists for there to be consequences as a result of carjacking, they will do the right thing, not because they want to, but because the risk of arrest and being on CSI was, for them, that much more real.
It is the kind of thing that gives you faith in the system. Although this is merely a scene from a movie, it nonetheless reinforces the known, and powerful, message that effective policing can be a great deterrent. It says a competent police force is not just desirable in any modern society, it is a right that must be demanded by us all.
And so when news broke that Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega had replaced Gauteng police commissioner Mzwandile Petrus with Mondli Zuma, who faced criminal investigation, my mind went back to this movie. The flimsy explanation that Zuma had not declared that there were pending investigations into his conduct just made a terribly sad tale worse.
It told of a national commissioner who believes doing a background check on someone who must be in charge of police in Gauteng, which is the economic hub of the continent, must be left to the potential candidate’s benevolence and principled adherence to truth. If Phiyega asks Zuma to declare and Zuma has nothing to declare, that must mean there is nothing to declare or investigate.
How shallow and naive can you get? And this from the police, the very people who should know better. Is it any wonder we have people like Richard Mdluli, our cheap version of 007, rising to the highest levels in the police when dark clouds hang over their heads? Therein lies the crux. If you appoint questionable people to support the top management, these will, instinctively, attempt to entrap the top management including politicians who can’t keep their fingers out of the cookie jar. This is so that those who are at the top remain beholden to middle management for fear of being exposed.
Look at how former national police commissioner Bheki Cele’s goose got cooked over police lease deals. Ditto Jackie Selebi. But this is merely to focus on the problem besieging police management. The fact that I can say with certainty that those who will be unveiled as the top matriculants at the end of this year are not looking forward to joining the police is a major indictment on the SAPS and the country.
But for the police to be able to “create a safe and secure environment for all people in South Africa”, as their mission and vision promises, the police force must be able to attract the best from our schools and higher education training institutions.
If we are serious about our security and welfare, we must invest in our safety. We must seek programmes to make it sexy for nerdy, intelligible students to contemplate a fulfilling future in the police.
It must not just be a lair of aggro males.
We must make being a detective the coolest thing possible. In this way, we will have the right candidates to pay attention to detail and, make use of available technological advances, send out a message to carjackers et al that police enforcement could be a strong deterrent.
If we do not do this, we should resign ourselves to mediocrity. The sort we witnessed during the Oscar Pistorius bail hearing. The decision by magistrate Desmond Nair to grant him bail showed how the investigating officer, though experienced and helped by Advocate Gerry Nel, was at sea on the laws governing bail applications. The evident ineptitude was numbing.
We may also resign ourselves to relying on a burgeoning and costly army of private security, which comes with its own risks and challenges. The Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority reports say that for the 2010/11 financial year, we had about 9 000 security companies and about 1.7 million registered security guards, 400 000 of whom were active.
Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa told Parliament last year: “The South African private security industry is increasingly performing functions which used to be the sole preserve of the police.” Any wonder? Those who live in the northern heartland of Joburg who can afford it are somewhat – that being the operative word – safe. Although many cops are the quintessential, upright officials of the law, many, including those already convicted of crimes, ought not to have a place in our police.
If we don’t pay attention to who the recruits are and what training they get, we must not be surprised when corruption becomes endemic, when rapists roam the streets without punishment, and when innocent people are jailed because police merely accepted statements without interrogation.
We should not be surprised when police themselves feel they could do a Mido Macia on any of us, unleash another Marikana on us, be involved in drug trafficking, carjackings and, generally, behave like a law unto themselves. There would be no reason for them to say to those who tempt them: “Do I look like I want to be on CSI?”
It is that thought that ought to have entered Zuma’s head when asked if there were any investigations pending against him. He did not declare because he, like many criminals, thought the possibility was high he could get away with it.
Some will look at him and believe he is the exception. In their world, only the unlucky ones get caught, and even those who get caught could still make the docket or witnesses disappear or, alternatively, the investigator and prosecutor will botch the case.
It’s saddening. Our police force needs saving. It cries out for attention – from top to bottom.
* Makhudu Sefara is the editor of The Star. Follow him on Twitter @Sefara_Mak
** The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Newspapers.