It is common for politicians to try to make hay – if not while the sun shines, then at least when it rains; when tragedy strikes. Especially when it strikes somebody else. Sometimes the jaw-dropping Schadenfreude is just too much to bear. Bheki Cele’s use of the death of Senzo Meyiwa is one such example. He is not, and was not, the right person to be our National Police Commissioner. And – despite his coy denials – the fact that he is even trying to campaign again is a symptom of just how political an issue crime is in this country. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
On Saturday Cele entered the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban to attend the funeral of Meyiwa. By all accounts he received a big cheer. But there is a long history of what you could call orchestrated cheering in this country: the volume of cheers has been used to measure the support leaders have. This rose to such proportions that in the run-up to Polokwane the ANC decided to have Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma walk in together. It’s a precedent that has yet to be overturned. Cele stopped for a while, and next to the coffin, did what broadcast journalists call a “grab”, a quick mini-press conference while standing up.
It was the kind of theatre Cele has always excelled in.
On Tuesday he then attended what was dubbed the “launch of an anti-crime campaign”. It was not a campaign many people had heard of before. But along he went. And when asked directly if he was campaigning for his old job back, he said that it was not up to him. We’ve heard that one before. From Mbeki. From Zuma.
By Tuesday morning Twitter was full of it. #BringBackBhekiCele was trending, and his name (and hat) was everywhere. It was exactly the kind of response he would have wanted. Even if some people were opposing him, his name was out there. And all the time people were highlighting the contrast between the fedora-ed man of action he claims to be, and the studious, perhaps slightly boring Riah Phiyega.
And, as the good populist he is, he knew which way most people would go. They want action, he’s prepared to bring it.
It is amazing how short our memories are.
It was only four years ago that the Sunday Times broke the story that Cele had entered into a strange rental agreement with Roux Shabangu, that would see the police service (as it then was) paying around R500m over ten years. It turned out Shabangu was still in the process of actually buying the building. In the end, it was actually sold for a figure of just R66m. Cele immediately waded in, attacking journalists here, there and everywhere. And it wasn’t just verbal attacks. Things got so serious that in the end Sunday Times reporter Mzilikazi wa Afrika was arrested and transported to Mpumalanga. Officials there appeared to refuse to follow the normal legal procedures, until at last he appeared before a magistrate. He was immediately released. Dark threats about charges being reinstated came to absolutely nothing, which shows the Cele was clearly abusing his powers.
In the end, the Public Protector’s recommendations against Cele were followed by President Jacob Zuma (it was an almost different era) who suspended him, and set up a panel headed by a judge to investigate. They too recommended he be kicked out. In the end, Zuma acted.
This means that the Public Protector and a judicially led panel agreed he should go. The evidence was so overwhelming that Zuma had to act, something he is normally not in favour of doing.
But in the meantime, Cele had damaged our national psyche. He was the first national figure to start claiming the police should use more force against suspected criminals. While he was very careful to not say that officers should “shoot to kill”, he had previously said they “should aim for the head”. He militarised the police, reversing the changes instituted in the service after 1994. Superintendents gave way to warrant officers, and the entire public ethos of the force appeared to change.
In Cele’s wake lay the bodies of Mido Macia, Andries Tatane, and surely, those who died at Marikana (Phiyega took over the police just days before the shootings happened).
He also left a huge amount of bombast. Famously, he referred to Shrien Dewani as a “monkey”. He loved the headlines, but didn’t like the media. He sued the Sowetan for publishing a picture of him cradling a machine-gun, which was clearly and obviously altered for dramatic effect.
But the worst part of his behaviour was that he continued the tradition of being a National Police Commissioner you could not trust. Selebi before him had been convicted of corruption relating to the drugs dealer Glenn Agliotti.
Cele did not learn from this example. He once attended the New Year’s Eve party given by Shawn and S’bu Mpisane in Durban. They’re famous for their extravagance. But they’re also famous for never explaining where their money came from. Their assets have been confiscated by the Assets Forfeiture Unit, they have been charged several times with various offences. So far they have not been found guilty of any of them – although murky questions have been asked about the conduct of the National Prosecuting Authority in the case.
Now, call me old-fashioned, but it does seem odd for a National Police Commissioner to associate, in public, with people with such a strong question mark next to their name. Surely you would not spend time with people accused of criminal offences if you were in such a post, just to ensure that there was no perception they were bribing you.
And if you can’t see that, you shouldn’t be in the post.
The rise of Cele’s candidacy, if it can be called that, for the post of National Police Commissioner has its roots in a form of nostalgia for a time that didn’t exist. In the same way that so many people seem to think the Mbeki era was golden because of economic growth, so they think Cele’s approach brought results.
But they forget all the people who died along the way. Mbeki’s AIDS policies killed hundreds of thousands; Cele’s led to police officers being more violent.
Crime is clearly beginning to creep up the political agenda. The dips in violent crime levels of the early years of the Zuma administration have gone, and the number of attacks is rising. People are feeling angry. If Senzo, a national icon, can be killed, then anyone can. They feel vulnerable.
The very fact Cele is willing to manipulate that for his own ends is proof he’s not the right person for the job. And doesn’t deserve to be in public life at all. DM
Photo: Deputy Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Bheki Cele (R), who served as national police commissioner from 2009 to 2011, is seen with Ekurhuleni mayor Mondli Gungubele at a residents’ meeting at the Vosloorus civic centre, on the East Rand, to discuss crime, Tuesday, 4 November 2014. Bafana Bafana and Orlando Pirates captain Senzo Meyiwa was recently killed in the area while visiting his girlfriend Kelly Khumalo. Criminals allegedly entered the house, demanded cellphones, and shot Meyiwa before fleeing. Meyiwa was buried in Durban over the weekend.Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA
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