NATIONAL police commissioner Bheki Cele was forced to retract comments regarded as xenophobic at a breakfast meeting of officers in Khayelitsha yesterday.
But later in the day he was back to his explosive self, calling on police to confront violent criminals with all the force at their disposal.
Unveiling the police’s holiday season safety plan for the Western Cape, Cele claimed in an address to officers that “people who jump borders” were flooding into South Africa, competing for housing and resources, and squeezing out locals in the process.
Cele said this was fuelling xenophobic violence.
“We can’t have a country that’s run by people who jump the borders,” said Cele.
Cele said Somalis had pushed out locals from business and rental property in Bellville and many other areas.
“If you rent a flat there, they come and rent you out. At the spazas, they’re better stocked than Shoprite.
“Our people have been economically displaced, all these spaza shops (in the townships) are not run by locals.”
While Cele was speaking, a member of the audience shouted: “They’re not banking!”
To this Cele asked: “One has to ask, what happens to the money?”
He said the situation, especially in townships was untenable, and would eventually reach a breaking point.
“One day our people will revolt, and we’ve appealed to DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) to do something about it,” said Cele.
But later, pressed about his statement by a member of Khayelitsha’s Community Police Forum (CPF), Cele retracted and said there was no confusion.
“We can’t be ambiguous abut crime … if you assault a Pakistani, a Burundian, a Rwandan, that’s crime. Crime is crime, it has no face or nationality,” said Cele.
Khayelitsha has had a lull in attacks on Somali-owned spaza shops after the intervention of the local police and community structures after a spate of violence which was believed to be fuelled by rivalries with local competitors.
Police, Cele said, were spending too much of their resources on service delivery protests which had an impact on crime fighting.
Addressing a question about police reservists, Cele said there could be no expectation that reservists would enjoy preference when applying to join the service.
“If you want to join the police, join the queue,” said Cele.
One issue police would not compromise was the requirement that all new recruits were without criminal records.
On CPFs, Cele said their responsibility was being taken away from the police administration by the ministry.
He said some CPF heads had become police apparatchiks, who were not aware of their statutory role and instead preferred to be indunas.
“They must not go to the station and tell police what to do,” said Cele.
In the Harare section of Khayelitsha, as he went on a walkabout, shaking hands and talking to children, some residents excitedly called out: “Nanku Bheki Cele!” (Here’s Bheki Cele).
After seeing Cele, Sibongeseni Mntuyedwa, 21, said Harare was not safe, especially the Endlovini informal settlement, which bordered the Wolfgat Nature Reserve.
“There are too many criminals here,” Mntuyedwa said.
“People can’t walk in the mornings to work as they face being attacked and robbed by criminals, many of whom don’t live in the area,” Mntuyedwa said.
Later, when he opened the new premises of the Milnerton police station, Cele told more than 500 people that, although murders had dropped significantly countrywide, he was taking no joy in the statistics.
Cele said the 15 000 people murdered in South Africa last year, although down from the 18 000 in 2009, was still too many.
Police officers were also being targeted by criminals, and for that Cele told officers they could not engage violent criminals peacefully.
“Then they have a confrontation with the police, their peers in this (signalling a gun).
“Then they complain about (their) human rights.
“Don’t misinterpret me, I fought for human rights. I |did not fight for criminal rights.
“I never said ‘shoot to kill’, but I said when criminals go for cash heists and bank robberies, they prepare … they take their best weapons, they don’t go with broomsticks and feather dusters.
“We are not going to be cowered down by criminals.
“Police, when you go there, get ready, take your best machinery. We give teachers chalk, we give doctors stethoscopes. Criminals should be scared of the police,” Cele said.
But he reiterated that the police’s primary objective was not to shoot criminals, but to arrest them.