Those calling for the reinstatement of Bheki Cele as National SAPS Commissioner seem not understand the nature of the crisis in policing, how it impacts upon cime, and the type of remedial action which is sorely needed, No matter which position he occupies Cele remains a dedicated ANC loyalist. Cadre deployment has proven disastrous and only when the policing reins are handed to well trained, professional police members can the long road to transformation from apartheid-style policing begin..
Cele is a charismatic and populist politician – qualities which he brought to the SAPS; hence, no doubt, the calls for his return. However, popularity is a likely hindrance in implementing a long overdue, ruthless cleanup, including by disciplining and dismissing errant members. The current appalling state of policing is the consequence of twenty years of bungling and political interference..
Shortly before the 1994 elections a senior Nationalist Party representative made a remarkably candid admission: It was impossible to purge the police, he said, because ‘you’d be lucky if you were left with 10% of them’. While it was known that many in the upper echelons were far to the right of de Klerk and had not welcomed his reforms, KZN Monitor research during the 1990s suggested that dismissing 90% of police as beyond redemption was a gross exaggeration. The problem lay with the ultra-conservative, corrupt nature of much of the management, and the integration of homeland police forces whose training was (with some exceptions) far inferior to that received in the SAP, who had also been used as political foot soldiers. What the research documented in detail in the 1990s in KZN was rampant racism, nepotism, and members (many of them of a ‘ja baas’ mentality) being promoted well beyond their levels of competence in what was essentially tokenism. Many former security police members who had colluded in gross human rights abuses (but never approached the TRC) were promoted to senior positions, and most of the African members promoted in this province were from the former KZP. Many experienced, long serving previously disadvantaged SAP members with clean records were not rewarded with promotion, and left the police. This trend has continued until the present time as policing has lurched from bad to worse. While political dynamics in the 1990s played a part, the ANC, both nationally and provincially, colluded in the travesty of transformation.
From the outset the ANC messed up badly in its approach to policing. Instead of promoting experienced people with clean track records, who were not members of notorious apartheid units such as SANAB and he security police (they were interchangeable), it placed its own cadres within the ranks of the police. At best they were ineffectual, at worst their interventions were disastrous. They did not understand policing culture and were completely out of their depths. Some of them, like Selebi (who had been internationally respected in human rights circles) were, like many of their comrades in government, corrupted by the power that was handed to them. The end result was that policing continued to deteriorate, and specialised units which are at the core of fighting crime – detective services and Crime Intelligence – became increasingly dysfunctional and subverted to serve political ends. At the same time, the good guys – and there are still many of them – risk their lives (often because of corrupt colleagues), without acknowledgement or the reward of promotion. Almost three months ago a letter sent to both national and provincial ministers about detectives who had done sterling work in bringing down levels of violence being completely sidelined did not even get a response, let alone any action It seems that competence counts for nothing in the new SAPS.
Abuse, including torture, and killings by the police continued after 1994, but have escalated in recent years, especially since the message went out to ‘shoot to kill’. Marikana was simply a consequence of a well established pattern of police conduct, entrenched during the Cele tenure. The new unit he established – the TRT (amaberets) – who were well represented at Marikana, are notorious for their brutality. Quite apart from the illegality of their actions, and their gross human rights violations, such conduct does nothing to stem crime. The abuse of suspects can destroy court cases, and, even if those shot are criminals, they should be identified before they kill people, and neutralised by an effective crime intelligence and criminal justice system. Crime pays, and that is why it is rampant – because of the atrocious state of the criminal justice system, starting with the police.
During a recent discussion about policing with a committed ANC cadre (who has good reason to dislike apartheid era policemen) the subject of Johann Booysen’s reinstatement to the SAPS came up (Booysen was the commander of the Cato Manor Organized Crime Unit, members of which are facing numerous charges of ‘hitsquad’ killings; he was reinstated after charges against him fell away). The cadre’s response = ‘What difference does it make’ – reflected the widespread disillusionment with the police, despite control over them having shifted to the ANC government. Apartheid police were brutal and corrupt, but they were at least well trained and efficient. Like their predecessors, far too many of the democratic era police are exceedingly brutal and corrupt – but they are also grossly inefficient. South Africa has had twenty years of nepotism and tokenism posturing as affirmative action : There has been no fundamental transformation from apartheid policing.
Cadre deployment must be stopped, and promotions to management, including national and provincial commissioners, must be made on the basis, not of race or political affiliation – but on that of being long serving, well trained members with clean, proven track records and management skills. It is, of course, unlikely that the powers that be would buy into that – but if they do not they will continue to expose themselves as emperors without clothes when they mouth meaningless platitudes about fighting crime