Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa

East London - Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa says the department must weed out elements within the police involved in crime, especially corruption, if it is to be viewed as a guardian of human rights and the constitution.

Speaking at an Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) seminar in East London yesterday, Mthethwa said that not only was the SAPS “one of the most central of all the institutions of the democratic state”, but it had to ensure people had “hope that police will do their best to protect them” when they were affected by crime.

Questions have been raised recently over public faith in the police amid allegations swirling around suspended crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli and apparent attempts to shield him from investigation; the axing of former police commissioner Bheki Cele over his role in inflated leases for police headquarters; and the sentencing of his predecessor, Jackie Selebi, to 15 years in jail for corruption.

Selebi was found guilty of corruption in 2010 for accepting bribes of just over R1.2 million from convicted drug smuggler Glenn Agliotti in exchange for top-secret information and favours.

Cele was recently fired by President Jacob Zuma on the recommendation of a board of inquiry set up to investigate his involvement in the signing of a R1.7 billion lease for new SAPS headquarters in Pretoria. The board, led by Judge Jake Moloi, found Cele unfit for office.

Mdluli was initially suspended amid charges of fraud and corruption, and charges relating to the murder of his ex-lover’s husband.

But the charges were all withdrawn and he was reinstated. He was then moved to another division before being suspended for a second time.

NGO Freedom Under Law has been granted an urgent interim interdict preventing Mdluli from performing any duties as a police official, pending an application to reinstate criminal and disciplinary charges against him.

Sapa reports that his disciplinary hearing was postponed yesterday for “logistical reasons”.

The IPID recently replaced the Independent Complaints Directorate, which was responsible for probing claims of misconduct or corruption by police officers.

Mthethwa said the new body’s focus would involve not only processing complaints but would extend to “developing strong investigative capacity”.

“Not only do you have the legislative capacity to investigate any police officer involved in human rights abuses, but (you) will also be able to use this investigative capacity to investigate issues of systemic corruption.

“We should expose and deal with networks of criminals that operate within us (and) build an institution above reproach.”

The minister noted the number of corruption convictions involving officials from the justice, crime prevention and security ministerial cluster had risen from 29 last year to 107 this year.

He told delegates that corruption was a “societal challenge that is facing all of us, both within government and the private sector”.

But to identify systemic corruption was just the first step – “what becomes crucial is ensuring that preventive and effective systems are put in place to deal with this scourge”.

He said although corruption had been a major issue within the police, members of the public – and even some in his department – had tried to shift the blame.

“There have been unfounded perceptions that because some police officers are not earning high salaries, they would therefore get involved in criminality. We need to caution against such narrow and myopic views,” he said.

“The deviant activities of a few rotten apples in our midst should not be allowed to tempt us to subtract from the human rights of society, the majority of whom are responsible, law-abiding citizens.”