It’s been a momentous five days for our newly installed Minister of Police Fikile Mbalula. On April 1 he had cause for a triple celebration – his 46th birthday, his appointment to the critical ministry in a country with one of the highest crime rates in the world, as well as clocking up 700,000 followers on his hyperactive Twitter account, an event he announced with characteristic ostentation. But while Mbalula might be tweeting that “criminals are a real bunch of unbearable losers” and threatening to “outgun” them, he also faces the challenge of looking inwards at several high-ranking SAPS members who have been accused of serious criminality. By MARIANNE THAMM.
Note: The Minister’s spokesperson, Esethu Hasane, has pointed out Mbalula did not arrive by helicopter but was fetched by car. We hope Hasane does not tweet while driving.
South Africa’s sixth Minister of Police, Fikile Mbalula, landed on Twitter with characteristic bombast on Sunday shortly after he had been sworn in by President Jacob Zuma. “Am here for you guys REPORT… crime am here.. Let’s gooooooooooooooo!” (That’s 15 Os, people.)
His predecessor, one of President Zuma’s most committed human shields, Nathi “Firepool” Nhkelo, appears to have been shafted after he was unable to secure Hawks head Lieutenant-General Mthandazo Ntlemeza’s tenure as head of the country’s most powerful crime fighting unit. He simply had to go; there is more work still to be done it seems.
Ntlemeza too has served his purpose and is no longer useful. Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, the man Ntlemeza was deployed to hunt mercilessly for over 15 months, was axed last week, delivered to the wilderness not by overcooked and trumped-up charges of fraud or authorising an early pension, but by an “intelligence report” presumably secured by the President’s other reliable human shield, Minister of State Security, David Mahlobo.
Nhleko also had to go because of his incompetence and tardiness not only in his irregular appointment of Ntlemeza but also in failing to report it, as is legally required, to Parliament in the requisite time frame. Nhleko also failed to sideline IPID head Robert McBride whom he suspended illegally and who is firmly back in the saddle, using every opportunity to brand the Crimes Against the State Unit as “the gestapo wing of the Hawks” and to openly challenge the Zuma plants in the country’s criminal justice system.
The feisty Ntlemeza is no doubt shifting uneasily in the hot seat at present as Mbalula intimated on Tuesday that the Hawks head’s days are numbered as “nobody is irreplaceable”, implying he will soon be tossed under the bus.
Mbalula told journalists that he would not be pursuing an appeal of the stinging judgment by a full bench of the Pretoria High Court on March 17 setting aside Ntlemeza’s appointment as irregular and ruling that he is not “fit for office”.
The new police minister said he was not prepared “to waste time about general Ntlemeza until Christmas”, adding, “I am not intending to make it an issue that must drag on and on in the courts in a case that is clearly not a case that is winnable in a court of law.”
But over the weekend, before assuming his duties and stilly giddy with the news of his appointment, Mbalula tweeted, “I want all of you who follow me support my efforts REPORT crime on my inbox #WanyaTsotsi #JindaTsotsi.”
Since then the minister, who manages remarkably to juggle an energetic online life with his real-life duty as a servant of the people, launched a bandwagon of hashtags including #JindaTsotsi, #JindaMzala, #WanyaTsotsi, #crimemustfall, #Noretreat, #asijiki and #Asinavalo, as well as tweeting a string of successes by SAPS from across the country, from mandrax busts in Humansdrop to the arrest of a murder suspect in KwaMashu and an abandoned baby found in Katlehong.
He also dropped in on Tuesday at Pretoria West in a police helicopter to attend an SAPS welcoming parade where he and his newly ensconced deputy, Bongani Mkongi, were introduced to SAPS members by acting commissioner, Lieutenant-General Khomotoso Phahlane. There is no doubt that Mbalula will find his invitation to fill up his inbox will be taken up. Several high-ranking current and retired police officials have been exposed in the past two years for their alleged willingness to act as conduits for the criminal underworld and several cases have been lodged against them.
This, of course, includes Phahlane himself who is currently being investigated for alleged corruption and defeating the ends of justice by IPID in relation to his R8-million home situated in a luxury estate in Pretoria.
Phahlane’s financial health was accidentally revealed in an affidavit by IPID investigator Mandlakayise Mahlangu in support of a section 205 application to subpoena Phahlane’s financial and cellphone records. The document was filed in response to an interdict application launched in February by Phahlane against forensic investigator Paul O’Sullivan. The respondents then asked Phahlane to reveal a document he had referred to in his founding affidavit in the matter.
IPID asked for the 205 application, court papers reveal, as investigations had revealed that Phahlane had managed to remarkably reduce his household and vehicle debt by millions in just five years.
Mbalula is a master of hyperbole and on Tuesday characteristically took to his new job with exuberance, informing those gathered, “If they come with AK47s, we must outgun them. Meet fire with fire. You are not given those guns as toys. You are given those guns to use them, to protect the nation and protect yourselves.”
Talking tough, Mbalula also warned “protesters” not to damage property during demonstrations as “we must educate our people because I don’t want another Marikana here where police opened fire and people died”.
His comments took on a much deeper and ominous layering in the current political crisis facing President Jacob Zuma, his supporters, the growing revolt against him and the planned series of demonstrations due to take place countrywide.
Democratic Alliance Shadow Minster of Police, Zakhele Mbhele, wasted no time condemning as “deeply troubling” Mbalula’s statements to SAPS members about “fighting fire with fire”, “shoot back, don’t retreat” and the reference to “another Marikana” in reference to the constitutionally enshrined right to protest.
“The DA is of the belief that both Mbalula, and his Deputy, Bongani Mkongi, are unfit to head the Department of Police, as both have expressed troubling views on the use of violence, and how the people of South Africa can and should be treated,” said Mbhele.
The minister’s enthusiasm and dedication are laudable. The ministry is not unknown territory as he was previous minister Nathi Nhleko’s deputy in 2009. Already then, Mbalula showed his partiality for inflammatory rhetoric, urging police to shoot-to-kill “anybody who is endangering the lives of people” and offering that it was inevitable that innocent civilians would die in crossfire in the fight against criminals.
Mbhele also laid into Mkongi and his comments in 2016 that a building to which a “Zuma Must Fall” banner had been attached should be burned down irrespective of the occupants.
Said Mbhele: “It is unacceptable that these men, who can so glibly utter such thoughtless and dangerous statements, can be trusted with the safety and security of millions of South Africans. Yet, it is obvious that Mbalula and Mkongi represent the interests of Jacob Zuma who consistently rewards those who are ineffective, yet compliant. Their concern is not the ordinary South Africans who suffer from violence and crime on a daily basis.”
The new minister and his deputy were accompanied to Pretoria West on Tuesday by Esethu Hasane, Mbalula’s controversial spokesperson, a delirious supporter of President Jacob Zuma (Zuma features as his header on his Twitter account) as well as the Gupta family.
At the weekend Hasane tweeted “I flatly refuse that Guptas are a problem yet don’t even control 1% of our economy while apartheid beneficiaries have over 90% control”, and again on Tuesday, “At the heart of all this are people frustrated with their Constitution that still recognises the President and allows him to have powers.” Later he also tweeted, “While others were hosting a Press Conference calling for his resignation, Pres Zuma launched a first train engineered & manufactured locally.”
Mbalula, Mkongi and Hasane might believe police, policing and violent crime are just a level in a spectacular virtual boys’ game, but will find out soon enough that it is one of the most troubling aspects of South African society and one that cuts across all divisions. In fact it is those who languished in townships who have suffered most and who are regularly terrorised by criminals as under-resourced police officials stand by helplessly.
Minister Mbalula inherits a ministry that overseas the work of around 195,000 men and women, many of whom are underpaid and overworked, who are offered little support and are in need of serious professionalisation. The killing of police officers – one every four days, according to statistics – is also a serious if not critical concern.
And while there are many dedicated, hard-working and honest cops, the service is also riddled with criminals in uniform, many of them high-ranking officers – some of them allegedly linked to underworld figures who mix in the same circles as friends, family and acquaintances of President Zuma.
But it is also a ministry that has, of late, been embroiled in the political factional fights that has taken deep root under President Jacob Zuma’s tenure. This has seen the sidelining of experienced cops like former Hawks head Anwa Dramat and Gauteng Hawks head General Shadrack Sibiya, to name only two.
Ntlemeza has also made extensive appointments to the Hawks during his tenure, sidelining and demoting some seasoned and experienced investigators including Major-Generals Jeremy Veary and Peter Jacobs.
Sport might be all about the game but policing is about people’s safety and their lives. It is also about protecting and upholding constitutional rights, and one of those is the right to protest.
Mbalula bears now the political responsibility for the Department of Police, the SAPS, the IPID and the Civilian Secretariat for police. It is a heavy responsibility and one that should not rest lightly on the new minister’s shoulders. Tweeting and hashtags will not be enough. DM
Photo: Then South African Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula addresses a media conference in Cape Town, March 17, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
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