Police failings are Zuma’s responsibility

Suspended police commissioner Riah Phiyega. Image source: Christine Vermooten

National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega runs a service that’s in the firing line daily – both from the bullets of criminals’ illegal guns and the pens and mouths of critics and angry citizens.

The police service is there to ensure we live in a country with law and order, and it would be naive of anyone to claim South Africa is anywhere near being able to pride itself on upholding the rule of law.

What makes the entire situation even harder to spin is that despite the rampant crime and institutionalised violence, the police service does itself no favours. Reports of police abuse and brutality, corruption and photos of cop cars lining up outside fast-food restaurants add to a snowballing of mistrust and loss of faith.

Phiyega was hired by President Jacob Zuma, and in no time she was in command of a police force clearly not capable of handling a crisis such as the strike at Lonmin in Marikana.

In her response to the Marikana report, Phiyega points out the police did not wake up with murderous intent, and that the violence of strikes is an aggravating factor. It would take a brave person to say the police woke up deciding to kill people en masse, but the inability to deal with inflamed situations can be traced back to former national police commissioner Bheki Cele, and even former deputy police minister Fikile Mbalula, talking in various guises about fighting fire with fire and shooting to kill.

The damaged and ill-prepared police force has been a problem since Zuma’s tenure started, and for that he must take responsibility. He hired Phiyega, he hired Cele and he is the president who should have been managing the country by appointing the best people for the respective jobs.

Sadly, when the police mess up dozens of people are killed. Other spheres of South Africa are in equal disarray, and a hands-on approach and project management nous is needed to prevent this country from sliding further into anarchy.

It is getting hot for Zuma, and slowly but surely various members of his inner clique appear, at the very least, to be breaking rank. As for Phiyega, the writing is on the wall – but if history is anything to go by, not much will be learned and even less changed to prevent more crises and disasters from happening.

today in print

today in print