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Mthethwa emerges to wave the softly-softly flag, for a moment or two

Mthethwa emerges to wave the softly-softly flag, for a moment or two

Where has police minister Nathi Mthethwa been of late? Things haven’t been going at all well with the police and its political boss kept his head under cover. He finally emerged at the Institute for Security Studies’ conference in Sandton on Thursday to deliver a meek message. Is all the posturing and bluster of the Bheki Cele era already over? By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

“Police.” Was your head filled with images of flashing blue lights and aggressive coppers shooting first and asking questions later? Mine was.

We have General Bheki Cele to thank for that. As transport MEC in KwaZulu-Natal, his policy of running at any problem with his arms swinging (plus his awful dress sense), earned him a reputation as a no-nonsense man, particularly because the approach happened to work in lowering road deaths. Limit the opportunities for human error, put the fear of God into motorists and, voila, problem solved.

The general found things a little tougher. Managing an entire police service is a lot harder than a mere provincial department, and the cowboy boots-and-AK-47 approach wasn’t suitable here. It only served to get more people killed. The police became even more hated.

Then there was the whole police headquarters lease thing, which proved to us that the general doesn’t read fine print.

So when the man politically in charge of the police speaks at an ISS seminar, you can be sure Daily Maverick will be there, listening closely.

And, boy, do you have to listen closely. Cele nearly roars when he speaks. Nathi Mthethwa mumbles as if he’s taking a phone call in a public library. Also, he is far more thoughtful and measured than Cele, which isn’t a bad thing at all.

After congratulating the ISS on its second annual conference, Mthethwa said crime statistics for the 2009/2010 financial year showed the strategies put in place two years ago were starting to yield positive results – aside from rape statistics which went up by about 2.5% and ATM bombings which have also gone up.

The challenge now is twofold: we still don’t know why crime in South Africa is so violent (which is one of the main things Mthethwa wants to see the ISS concern itself with). And also, the “primary focus of the SAPS transformation agenda is human resource development from recruitment right up until retirement”.

Mthethwa says this means they were doing a more thorough review of their training regimen. Recruitment at provincial level is going to devolve away from being the responsibility of one person, and will now be the responsibility of a committee. That committee is also supposed to engage the recruit’s home community to help sort out the bad apples from the good.

Better training for detectives and forensic analysts would also be part of the new strategy, which is more focused on securing convictions, not just nicking people – an effort spearheaded by Business Against Crime some 12 years ago, but never brought to fruition by the “justice cluster”. He made no mention of the National Planning Commission’s recommendation that the police service should be demilitarised and professionalised.

After Mthethwa’s surprisingly short speech, he was asked why the police didn’t simply harvest DNA from every South African and keep it in banks to use during criminal investigations. “Well, there are researchers who are looking into that,” Mthethwa began, and then checked himself. “But what about human rights? Our focus is on wrongdoers.”

Sigh of relief. It would have been an easy comment to stumble over. Crime weighs so heavily on the minds of South Africans it’s amazing we don’t have people mobbing the Union Buildings, demanding a skop, skiet en donner police state if only it grants them a semblance of safety in their homes – and human rights be damned. Given the calibre of securocrats in government, it’s a wonder they don’t exploit people’s fears to grant themselves more power.

It doesn’t help that Mthethwa kept mum through the headquarters lease controversy, but it’s a comfort that the police minister likes to emphasise the “service” bit of the South African Police Service. DM

Read more:

  • Crimes, damned crimes and their statistics in Daily Maverick;
  • Analysis: the general, the building and the wages of militarisation in Daily Maverick.



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