There’s a new sheriff in town and the baddies better head for cover. That’s the proud boast of Police Minister Fikile Mbalula at a media briefing where he this week outlined his strategic plan.
Mbalula is hardly an obvious choice for getting SA’s high and spiralling levels of violent crime under control. His stint in the sport and recreation portfolio was entertaining, but achieved little in concrete terms.
Mbalula got off to a fine start by blaming Zimbabweans for entering SA illegally to commit crimes. To “rob, terrorise and kill”, as he put it.
“There are Zimbabwean ex-soldiers who are in this country, robbing banks and promoting criminality. They are running away from Uncle Bob (Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe).”
Uncle Bob, sensitive soul that he is, has since lodged a formal complaint through his ambassador in Pretoria over the remarks. Mbalula will, no doubt, be flabbergasted.
As he pointed out to the journalists, such comments should not be interpreted as xenophobic, since there are also “very good” Zimbabweans in SA. “They are working in our kitchens, they are highly educated people.”
Despite this penchant for shooting from the hip, Mbalula is more a clowning fool than gunslinger, more an entertainer than an achiever. But like his predecessors in the job, he has quickly embraced the rhetoric of talking tough.
“I am not going to allow rogueness (sic) to happen in this country, to continue willy-nilly undeterred and the state being undermined,” Mbalula said. The police must be “ruthless” and “shoot to kill”.
This echoes the words of former deputy police minister Susan Shabangu, some eight years ago, who told her officers: “You must kill the bastards. You must not worry about the regulations … [you] have permission to kill these criminals.”
At the time, her words drew popular support from a public fed up with lawlessness. They also drew condemnation from those warning about the human rights implications of her approach.
At the Marikana Commission hearings into the 2102 police shooting of 41 demonstrating miners, it was suggested by counsel representing the bereaved families that the Saps had internalised Shabangu’s words as “licence to kill”.
No matter how pleasing to the ear Shabangu’s tough talk was to citizens at the sharp end, what they didn’t do was improve the effectiveness of policing. Levels of violent crime are higher now than they have ever been.
Crime is out of control not because Saps is outgunned. It is out of control for a number of reasons, including social and economic factors that are beyond the remit of any police authority to control.
But some are firmly within Saps control. One obvious reason why the Saps is losing the war against crime is because of the low grade of its human resources. A substantial percentage of its officers are barely literate, poorly trained and ill-disciplined. They are very often, themselves, criminals. Mbalula acknowledges the problem of rogue cops who “work with criminals and who are in the payroll of criminals”.
Until Mbalula improves the quality of recruits and rids the ranks of rubbish officers, all the other strategic goals he envisages for the Saps will fail. No ANC minister has yet had the courage to seize that particular nettle – but sometimes fools do rush in …