South Africa


Building a cop service shouldn’t be ‘political football’ — former safety and security minister Sydney Mufamadi

Former chairperson of the High-Level Review Dr Sydney Mufamadi. (Photo: Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi)

Former cabinet minister Sydney Mufamadi, who was involved in building South Africa’s police service as the country switched from apartheid to democracy, says developing a cop component that serves the country means analysing issues of warped leadership and steering away from politics.

“Building a police service which must serve the country… can’t be a matter of political football that is played in the national and provincial legislatures,” Mufamadi said on Wednesday.

He added that if individuals appointed via processes, including the involvement of Parliament, later did not inspire confidence via their work, “it must tell us there is something seriously wrong with issues of leadership.”

Mindsets, he said, needed to shift and leaders needed not only technical skills, but also vision.

Mufamadi was speaking at a webinar, titled Leadership Crisis in the SA Police Service, hosted by the Hanns Seidel Foundation (a non-profit organisation headquartered in Germany) and the Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office.

He was not speaking as a representative of government.

The second panellist at the event was Gareth Newham of the Institute for Security Studies.

During the discussion, it was heard that the police service had nine acting commissioners since 1994 and that several of the service’s leaders became embroiled in corruption allegations.

An example included the former deputy national commissioner, Bonang Mgwenya, who was arrested in October 2020 in connection with a case involving allegedly dodgy tenders.

She faced charges along with former acting national commissioner Khomotso Phahlane.

Other examples of crooked cop leaders included former national police commissioner Jackie Selebi who was jailed for corruption, much like former Western Cape police boss Arno Lamoer.

During Wednesday’s webinar Mufamadi and Newham spoke about South Africa’s policing situation as fragmentation among some of its most senior cops has become even more apparent.

This includes bad blood between National Police Commissioner Khehla Sitole and police minister Bheki Cele, and former head of Crime Intelligence Peter Jacobs, now the head of the police’s Inspectorate division, alleging other Crime Intelligence officers were linked to the abuse of the secret service account.

In one of the latest problems linked to the police, it also emerged that the protection detail assigned to controversially fired Western Cape detective head Jeremy Vearey was being withdrawn.

Vearey had countered that this would further endanger his life, especially as he was expected to testify in a massive gang-linked case in August.

Mufamadi indirectly referred to Vearey’s dismissal — he spoke about a march held where those involved wanted the reinstatement of members of the ANC’s armed wing, uMkhonto weSizwe.

Vearey was an uMkhonto weSizwe operative and following his firing in May, dozens of his supporters marched to Parliament demanding his reinstatement.

Mufamadi, apparently referencing this march, said it did not seem that “we have now produced a talent pool from which we can begin to set up a new police leadership which is unencumbered by the divisions of the past.

“The process of starting a new skills base was started in 1997, 1998…

“If the momentum has petered out, maybe that’s something we need to relook at.”

Newham said the problematic police leadership was “the result of political decision making”.

There had been “a huge turnover” of police leaders and each one of these had made appointments during their terms.

Most had made “bad appointments.”

Newham said if political forces at play actually wanted to ensure the best men or women were appointed in the police service, the leadership problem would not exist.

He said because high-level management was not thorough, this trickled down to the ground.

Police bosses did not seem interested in accountability — Newham said that in 2012 around 1,700 disciplinaries were held, this had decreased to 1,600 in the past few years.

He added that over the past five years R2.5-billion was paid out to victims of police abuse. 

Newham said that the process involved in appointing a police leader was critical.

Mufamadi had detailed how, shortly after 1994 and when Nelson Mandela was still in the early stage of his presidency, it was decided policing should be dealt with.

Under apartheid, policing resources were “used to suppress dissent and enforce the oppressive system”.

“The police were trained to see people who were advocating for rights, protesting in the streets, organising marches and things… as the enemy… an enemy to be suppressed,” Mufamadi said.

“Our approach, when we came into government in 1994, was one which has its provenance in the Freedom Charter… that promises security for all.”

New policies were introduced to shift the police from a militaristic approach to a service centred around community policing.

All this had required training.

“We started on-the-job training around the new public Gatherings Act and the need for police to have new skills of interacting with the community, which is why in the context of the new community policing culture, we fostered the creation of community policing forums which were intended to create the necessary partnerships between the police and the community,” Mufamadi said.

This was to, among other things, try and build trust between police officers and citizens.

Mufamadi explained that in 1994, a rush to appoint South Africa’s first democratically elected national police commissioner had intentionally been avoided.

He and colleagues instead “spent a bit of time interacting with the senior leadership of the SAPS.”

Prior to 1994, the cop appointed as national police commissioner had a background within the Special Branch — a police unit opposing those who were anti-apartheid.

“The person who was ultimately appointed was George Fivaz who did not have that Special Branch background and we were satisfied he was committed to… making a clean break with the past,” Mufamadi said.

At the time, Fivaz, who Mufamadi said was appointed in 1996, was ranked fourteen among the generals within the police service.

Of waiting to appoint a police commissioner and rebuilding the police service, Mufamadi said: “We had to take time to look from within”. DM


Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or sign in if you are already an Insider.

Everybody has an opinion but not everyone has the knowledge and the experience to contribute meaningfully to a discussion. That’s what we want from our members. Help us learn with your expertise and insights on articles that we publish. We encourage different, respectful viewpoints to further our understanding of the world. View our comments policy here.

All Comments 4

  • Accountability is the top priority of a police commander.Because of stats a station was red or green.Green means you met your statistical targets correlating with the stats of the previous year,showing a small increase.If certain crime were not down you were red, and if police initiated crimes weren’t up from the corresponding year you were also red.Some crimes must go down and certain crimes must go up.So the police started playing lift riding.They were scared to be red so they either manipulate stats or catch petty cases to be green.If somebody is caught for corruption your name was thrown around as “that station”So lots of commanders just looked the other way.Instead of being complemented for catching somebody for corruption you were now being belittled.It doesn’t help to catch 5 million drug cases , but 96 %of that is 1 stop dagga, or 1 tik straw or half a mandrax ,because of stat the police catch millions of addicts(guppies) and leave the sharks(drug dealers).So your leaders are weak and don’t act when they must speak up,for fear of pissing of top management and affecting their promotion.Get a different system, have daily f arm inspections, etc.Be community orientated but at the same time very strict on internal discipline.

  • In the 1990s a very senior businessman was seconded to the SAP for two years to help them get some proper management practices and police technology in place but I understand that he left disillusioned by an organisation that just just too inert to change. I guess that the last 20 odd years have been a complete waste of time. In any event, that’s the result.

  • Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted