By Zelna Jansen
Lieutenant-General Fannie Masemola was appointed as national police commissioner by President Cyril Ramaphosa on March 31.
The announcement was made shortly after the president responded last month to a question in the National Assembly, saying that he would follow a similar process to that of his appointing the chief justice and the national director of public prosecutions.
This statement was interpreted by many to believe that the public would be afforded an opportunity to make inputs. Suggestions were made that the panel must be representative of society and that such a process was actually the president imposing a check on his own power. This was not what happened.
Little is known about the panel of experts advising the president. It has been reported that Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and Police Minister Bheki Cele were on the panel. There was no transparency and the statement of following the same process as appointing the chief justice is empty, devoid of substance and merely stated for public relations reasons.
This has led many organisations to voice their concerns about the lack of transparency around the appointment of the national police commissioner. Some have called for the Constitution to be amended to have a more open and inclusive process.
Nonetheless, the power to appoint the national police commissioner is that of the president and he has exercised his power. Masemola at 58, has about 30 years of experience in the SAPS. He is known as a “career cop” and has held several positions in the SAPS while working his way up the ranks. His predecessor Khehla Sitole was also a “career cop” with much experience.
There have been times when the position was occupied by people who were appointed from outside the SAPS. These include Riah Phiyega, Bheki Cele and Jackie Selebi.
Appointing Masemola is therefore beneficial for the SAPS because he has the institutional knowledge of the issues that it is facing. Masemola was responsible for security for many major events, such as the 2010 Fifa World Cup and the UN summits and climate conferences.
From 2013 to 2016, he served as the police commissioner in Limpopo where he reportedly played a significant role in decreasing stock theft in that province. He was appointed in 2016 as the deputy national police commissioner and brings this additional six years’ experience to his new post.
Most recently, he was the chairperson of the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NatJOINTS) on Covid-19, in which he aided in coordinating the government’s efforts across sectors, internationally and domestically. He has also worked in the VIP Protection Unit of the SAPS which is responsible for the protection of Cabinet ministers, MECs and foreign dignitaries.
It has also been reported that Masemola is thought to have a good relationship with Cele. This is a key relationship that he must handle with care. In terms of sections 206 and 207 of the Constitution, there are two centres of power – one responsible for policy and the other for operations. These two centres must work together to restore stability within the SAPS leadership.
The last thing the SAPS needs is another scenario where there are tensions and conflict between the minister and national police commissioner. A priority for Masemola is to restore public confidence in the SAPS.
Another is taking a strong stance against corruption within and outside the SAPS. Another matter of priority is the restructuring of the SAPS. Particularly, the top-heavy brass which collectively earns about R1 billion.
This is especially important given that it was reported in 2021 to the police parliamentary portfolio committee that the budget reductions have led to a drop in police officials from 194 605 in the 2016/17 financial year to 182 126 in March 2021.
The number of police officials will continue to decrease by 6 200 per annum. The current police to population ratio stand at 1:327. This is going to impact citizens severely. Middle-class areas will employ security service providers. It is the poorest of the poor who will feel the lack of policing services more.
Restructuring the SAPS and fighting corruption will inevitably lead to restoring the public’s confidence. However, to do this, Masemola is going to need the support of Cele, and the president, as well as Cabinet ministers.
The primary mandate of the SAPS is to protect the citizens of South Africa. In recent years, citizens have witnessed crime steadily increasing, while infighting in the SAPS continues. We, the people, hope that the experience, linkages in the SAPS and the relationships that Masemola has with ministers will assist him in leading the SAPS to reduce crime and restore the public’s lack of confidence.
*Jansen is a lawyer and CEO of Zelna Jansen Consultancy