It’s unfair to blame not-my-president Jacob Zuma for all South Africa’s ills. However, the lack of law enforcement is primarily his fault. Here’s why.
Not only is he a master at avoiding prosecution, but he has also enfeebled the criminal justice system in other ways, almost to the point of anarchy. Of course, we can blame apartheid, when unjust laws and brutal policing bred fear and loathing.
Certainly there’s a legacy to overcome. But that excuse is not sufficient to account for the state we are in. Leadership plays an important role in shaping the image and conduct of the police.
Consider the South African Police Service (SAPS). In the last eight years we have had five different national police commissioners, acting or otherwise. And what a sorry bunch of crooks and plonkers they have been.
Nothing there to inspire pride among officers, or to instil public confidence. Regrettably, the latest minister of police, Fikile Mbalula, is a buffoon.
The SA Police Union accuses him of confusing his role with that of acting commissioner Lesetja Mothiba. The union says Mbalula is too involved in operational matters, and he uses crude language.
Zapiro’s cartoon in the latest Sunday Times depicts a Twitter-obsessed foul-mouth who is all talk and no action. That’s Mbalula. Neither the SAPS nor the public can feel comfortable that he is in charge.
Confidence will have been further dented by allegations about who paid for an expensive holiday that Mbalula and family enjoyed in Dubai while he was sports minister. So the police minister is a laughing stock, or worse, and the acting commissioner is invisible.
As Gareth Newham of the Institute for Security Studies pointed out in a weekend interview, police conduct has deteriorated because of the crisis of top management.
In other words, police behave badly because they are badly led. In five years this has resulted in a 175% increase in payouts in legal cases against the police, not counting the legal fees.
Former commissioner Riyah Phiyega was on the payroll long after she was suspended.
Former crime intelligence head Richard Mdluli has been “on suspension for six years on full pay, with a driver, with all his perks and benefits”.
While police spending has gone up, performance has deteriorated. We pay for this shambles, financially and as victims of poor law enforcement.
A common denominator is Zuma, who appoints ministers and national commissioners. Poor appointments since he came to power in 2009 have left the SAPS unable to function effectively.
Police ineptitude has a knock-on effect on municipal police forces, who work in conjunction the SAPS.
There is reluctance by the SAPS to pursue “B” crimes, which include a lot of the things that annoy residents at local level. That’s one reason why Johannesburg urgently needs municipal courts, which are in the pipeline. These courts will be an important step on the road to better law enforcement.
While there are plenty of good SAPS officers, Zuma’s paralysing effect at leadership level remains deleterious. The sooner he goes the better.
Then perhaps there will be more public confidence in law enforcement.