There may come a time when Fikile Mbalula might need his own translator to help the country’s weary and confused citizens to navigate our way through his public appearances. One candidate who immediately springs to mind is Thamsanqa Jantjie, our own Fog Donkey, a term colleague Richard Poplak coined to describe the sign language interpreter, the only man at Nelson Mandela’s memorial in 2013 who seemed to possess, in that moment, an authentic clarity in what must count as the beginning of South Africa’s descent into Dada.
On Wednesday our new Minister of Police called a press conference ostensibly to set out his strategy for the coming year and how his ministry and the police who serve at his command were going to crush criminals who terrorise citizens and threaten the security of the state. Mbalula breezed into the meeting chipper, like a new brave Sheriff who had just strode into town, six guns cocked and ready, a revised Thesaurus in his back pocket.
Choice take-out words and phrases for the day; “voodoo lawyers”, “rogue things” and “rogueness”
But more about the plans later.
It was only after Mbalula’s beautiful mind was released from the confines of his official statement during question time that a unique, albeit highly troubling, portrait of the country, its law enforcement officials and its criminals swam eye-wateringly into view.
“I am not going to allow rogueness to happen in this country, to continue willy nilly undeterred and the state being undermined,” Mbalula announced with the beguiling authority of a man who may, at this point, still underestimate the demands of the job while overestimating his abilities.
We all know the criminal classes in South Africa appear to fear nothing and nobody, apart from neighbourhood vigilantes and street law, so Mbalula bestrides territory where the very lives of citizens are routinely threatened and violently taken. Crime, apart from state capture, is THE most pressing issue in South Africa that not only claims and damages thousands of lives annually, but has ripped the very fabric of our fragile society. To say nothing of its economic cost.
Some of this “rogueness” was located, Mbalula suggested, in the person of Lieutenant General Mtandazo Ntlemeza, the head of the country’s Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation and one of the most powerful policemen in the country, who had, claimed the Minister of Police, “gone rogue” and was operating out of safe houses plotting revenge on the new Sheriff.
Ntlemeza’s challenge of the order for him to vacate the office as well has his insistence on keeping his state-issued cell phone (which he is apparently in the process of “wiping”) would not be tolerated, said Mbalula.
“The wiping of data we will deal with it. He is not supposed to do that. All cases that he was handling, they are supposed to be handled by General Matakata as an acting head. He cannot act and those who obey him and his orders, they are doing an illegal operation. And I am aware about the operation. Working in safe houses to undertake an operation on the Minister of Police. I am aware of that. AND I AM COMING FOR THEM. This illegality that has been going on in this country must come to an end. We can’t allow rogue police officers using state resources to undermine the the state. We can’t allow that,” Mbalula almost shouted, his voice raising an octave.
And if Ntlemeza didn’t peacefully hand back the phone he removed from the Hawks headquarters in Silverton earlier this week “we will retrieve it forcefully by law from him. If it means I must send a task force or intervention unit because he is armed and dangerous, I will do that,” Mbalula threatened.
Mbalula said it was now up to the courts to decide Ntlemeza’s fate and that the DPCI head’s lawyers had been “very provocative” and knew “how to play the law”. The Minister warned journalists, who he accused of being “law illiterate” of entertaining “voodoo” lawyers, of not being “played” by these lawyers.
“You can entertain them. Leave me out of that game. I am a law expert now. I know the law and I know what I am acting upon. I am the Minister of Police, I am not blind to the law.”
Alarmingly Mbalula also said the Ministry was aware that there were many other “rogue” officers in the SAPS, those “who work with criminals and who are in the payroll of criminals. Gangsters are owning police officers in this Republic. You give an order and then police officers put a blind eye to that particular order because they are in the payroll of criminals. Report them. It might take time but the wheels of the law are grinding. There is a new Sheriff in town.”
When it came to him toeing the line, the Sheriff revealed, it was “only the ANC” that could tell him when he overstepped the mark.
“I owe Ntlemeza nothing. I serve my organisation. My country. (Its) only the ANC that can tell me I am out of line. The lights are not on [best ask Thamsanqa about that one]. Jacob Zuma or Gwede are not calling me. I wait for their call. I owe no policeman a favour. So, if possible let’s play golf, let’s drink, let’s go to our families,” said the new expert on the country’s laws.
Police officers best also refrain from discussing politics with him, the Minister warned.
“I don’t speak politics with cops. If you come here waffling and mumbling with me I will put you in your place. I am an easy victim [que?]. I know what I am doing and I am going to do what I think is right.”
Threaded somewhere through this spectacular off-the-cuff riff, Mbalula assured journalists that he was aware that some of those behind the violent crime in South Africa are Zimbabweans, former soldiers, “chased out by Mugabe”.
“And don’t confuse that with xenophobia,” he cautioned journalists who might misunderstand the sweeping statement. “There are a lot of highly educated people working in our kitchens. If there is anything Mugabe did, he educated them. They are doctors working in your kitchens.”
And the strategy?
Some of it sounded real good. A ruthless approach to armed criminals, but within the law. A time for cops to get fit – Operation No Carbs. A reintroduction of a bill dealing with firearms control, getting cops out of charge offices and back on the street. The Minister claimed on Wednesday that 43 percent of the SAPS were out on the streets while 53 percent remained safely in their offices doing admin and support.
“We want to change that balance,” said Mbalula.
There was talk about mobilising communities to work with police in fighting crime, a ramping up of the National Crime Prevention Strategy, getting “back to basics”, working with the SAPS civilian secretariat, using the National Development Plan as a lodestar, providing proper housing for SAPS members as well as psychological support. This, Mbalula said, was needed because too many SAPS members were taking sick leave too often.
There would be school safety programmes, the engagement of youth diversion programmes and the involvement of the Department of Social Development and Sport in attempting to prevent crime and drug abuse among the country’s youth.
“We will amass the energy of marginalised youth”.
Police vehicles too would become a focus of a “turnaround on fleet management”. How many and why so many of these vehicles ended up out of commission or in for repairs for far too long.
There were plans to overhaul the 10111 emergency services.
There was going to be a beefing up of detective and forensic services, the upgrading of police stations in areas where this was needed and more focus on “serial rapes and murders”. Detectives would have to rely on more than just DNA but also explore modus operandi, said the Minister. There would be more focus on domestic violence and sexual offences.
“South Africa only has four forensic science labs that service the entire country. Delays cannot be tolerated. Full resourcing of forensic labs will be a priority,” said Mbalula.
The police would also not be holding back when it came to encounters with criminals.
“We will fight fire with fire. We will shoot to defend the innocent. We will shoot to defend ourselves.”
The Marikana massacre had highlighted the serious problems with public order policing in South Africa and Mbalula said that one of his key recommendations would be for the Tactical Response Team and other specialised units not to get involved in front line policing. The SAPS would also have to be demilitarised.
“We want to make sure that SAPS visible policing is strengthened to deal with citizens and not use the TRT to augment capacity,” said Mbalula.
Plans that might re-ring alarm bells is the Minister’s vision for a single SAPS, demilitarised, that would fall under his Ministry. This could mean an end to Metro policing, an issue that is bound to rile the DA where it has won metros and where it seeks to control policing at local level.
A few other red flags: Mbalula’s mention of the Infrastructure Protection Bill, which would replace the ancient National Keypoints Act, as well as a revision of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate Act, the SAPS Amendment Bill to align it with the constitution, as well as the Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terrorist and Related Activities Act (Act 33 of 2004).
Then there was his reference to cybercrime and “the attempt to seek to address challenges” around this through the controversial Cybercrimes and Cybersecurity Bill which will be introduced this year.
Mbalula, however, shored up all his his wrath for criminals and crooked cops.
“Police are deep in the pockets of criminals. What do we do with cops who are in the pockets of criminals? There is no issue of being a general in the office. We must rain on criminals. We must make their lives hell. Those wearing flashy clothes, and the cars they are driving. We are coming for you. That wealth that is unaccounted for, we are coming for you. Those criminals in Vilakazi Street.”
Mbalula said his priority would be the many good men and women who served in SAPS and that if and when he unleashed himself and his forces on the country’s criminals “the revolution will not be televised”.
Regarding death threats made to high-profile individuals and politicians, Mbalula suggested they give him a call, including presidential hopeful, Lindiwe Sisulu.
“The South African media is not a police station. She must call me and tell me she has been threatened so that I can unleash my forces,” he said, adding “the minister cannot be threatened because she wants to become president of this country. She must unleash her political ambitions”.
Next week Mbalula will be launching a “big operation” titled WanyaTsotsi to which the media will be invited, he promised.
“Those criminals who are on the run we will hunt them down till we find them. They must be found and locked up. They can run but we will find them. We must lock them up. They don’t have to mix with innocent communities.”
And finally “I have hit the ground running at 300km an hour”.
Mbalula’s press conference, let us not forget, comes in a week that kicked off with the new Minister of Police asking the acting National Police Commissioner (who is himself being investigated for charges of fraud, corruption and defeating the ends of justice) to retrieve an “illegally removed” car and phone from the country’s most powerful policeman, the head of the Hawks, Ntlemeza who is refusing to obey a court order.
Welcome to the Brave New World. DM
Photo: Minister Fikile Mbalula speaks during a press conference at the Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, 17 March 2016. EPA/SUMAYA HISHAM
"Plato is dear to me, but dearer still is truth" ~ Aristotle