Amanda Watson
News Editor
3 minute read
25 Sep 2017
8:47 am

As crime stats season looms, police leadership remains in a state

Amanda Watson

When it comes to fighting crime, President Zuma has one job: appoint a decent police commissioner. So far, that's been a tall order.

A Democratic Alliance (DA) party surpporter wears a banner and a showerhead on 13 November 2014, looking like President Jacob Zuma's depiction often made by South African cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro, during a DA protest outside police headquarters in Pretoria to demand that the national police commissioner do more to lower the nation's crime rate. AFP PHOTO/MUJAHID SAFODIEN

The annual crime stats season will soon be upon us and, while members of the South African Police Service leadership battle for survival, what the overall picture will be is anyone’s guess.

Following the abject failure of political appointees to the top cop post – Jackie Selebi, Bheki Cele and Riah Phiyega – there were numerous calls for a career cop to take over, which also hasn’t worked out.

Former acting national commissioner and Task Force commander Lieutenant General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi was shuffled into an administrative position after suspending another career cop, Crime Intelligence (CI) head Richard Mdluli, following charges of intimidation, three counts of kidnapping, two counts of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm, murder, attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder relating to the 1999 murder of Oupa Abel Ramogibe – Mdluli’s ex-girlfriend’s husband.

Since then Mdluli has been additionally charged with defeating or obstructing the course of justice, fraud and corruption.

The other top career cops in trouble are Lieutenant General Khomotso Phahlane – fighting charges of corruption, Hawks boss Mthandazo Ntlemeza (recently relieved of duty by Police Minister Fikile Mbalula – which Ntlemeza is still disputing), his predecessor Anwa Dramat over the alleged rendition of five Zimbabweans, and former head of detectives Vinesh Moonoo – also accused of corruption.

There are more, and the list of members and the charges against them is tedious – if not depressing – because if our top cops are constantly fighting criminal charges, how can they focus exclusively on fighting crime?

The constitutional demands on the president appointing the head of what is supposed to be South Africa’s biggest stumbling block to crime is, some would say, disappointing: the president as head of the national executive must appoint a woman or man as the national commissioner of the police service, to control and manage the service.

That is it.

That, and the ongoing failure of a suitable person to head the police, are the drivers behind the Institute of Security Studies and Corruption Watch’s recent submission to parliament.

“The National Development Plan urges the President to establish a selection panel to drive a merit-based and transparent recruitment process to develop a short-list of experienced individuals of integrity who possess the capability of leading the SAPS,” the organisations’ submission reads.

It goes on to make a poignant point: “This is particularly important because when police leadership make mistakes people can get killed or seriously injured. We need not look further than the events of Marikana where police needlessly shot 112 striking mineworkers, killing 34 people, to realise why we need proper police leadership.”

Plainly, something has to change.

However, off the books was the decentralisation of the state police, said senior researcher at the ISS’s Crime and Justice Programme, Dr Johan Burger.

“So many of our local councils are failing, they can’t even manage their own affairs. To expect them to appoint and manage a police service at that level is just not going to happen,” said Burger.

“The way to do it is to keep the police in its current formation at national, provincial, and local level and just get the appointment of our police chiefs right at every level, especially the national commissioner, deputy commissioners, and the head of the Hawks.”

Meanwhile, the circus continues.

Current acting national commissioner Lieutenant General Lesetja Mothiba has been charged with defeating the ends of justice by Brigadier Leonora Bamuza-Phetlhe for allegedly stating no investigations should be conducted into his Crime Intelligence head, Major General Obed Nemutanzhela.

Bamuza-Phetlhe has also alleged Mothiba asked her to drop charges against Major-General Dumezweni Zimu for apparently leaking a CI report to the media.

From ISS and Corruption Watch’s mouths to parliament’s ears then.