Opinionista Onkgopotse JJ Tabane 16 August 2013

Dear Minister Nathi Mthethwa, let’s talk frankly

When the police force is found to be rife with criminals, and those in charge of it are moving slowly to remedy the situation, and even pointing fingers at the public, some gentle (and not so gentle) words are in order. Frankly some help is needed to illuminate the situation, minister Mthethwa.

Dear Minister Nathi Mthethwa,

It was good to see you unwind recently with your new bride at the opening of the Luminance extravaganza. Even people entrusted with making sure none of us are wantonly murdered have to take a break to enjoy the finer things our beautiful democracy has to offer. Of course it’s all nonsense, these mutterings about your family being shareholders of such a high-end enterprise. Thank you, to you and your wonderful bride, for supporting such enterprise, even if just by being there. Hopefully you purchased something that won’t be stolen by one of the 1,500 cops in your police force who are said to be criminals. It must worry you that you have so many troops with something not so illuminated in their immediate or not so immediate past. I suggest, for all our sake, at least make sure the ones guarding our politicians are not amongst these sophisticated criminals who reckoned the best way not to be detected is to join the people who should be out there catching them as criminals.

Now, on to less illuminated things. What you said recently was interesting, calling on communities to stop saying negative things about the police to avoid them being attacked and killed in the line of their duty. This was a few weeks ago, minister, and quite frankly it puzzled me. Instead of calling on the community to report police who are giving the force a bad name, you suggested that some of the negative things being said about the police are unwarranted. Do we really need to remind each other that these are the same people who steal dockets for a few rands and expunge whole cases, letting criminals go free? These are the same people who routinely demand bribes from motorists and laugh at women who come to them to report instances of rape at their police stations? I am not aware that anyone else who is not a police can be so daring as to break into a police station to steal dockets. While I was worried for a few weeks after you reprimanded all of us for saying these bad things about your cops, I am no longer worried, as you have now confirmed that this deep mistrust of the police was not so misplaced after all, if 1,500 of them are convicted rapists and murderers. I suppose you think if this bad news comes from you, the community will treat the police better? Minister, I wish you would illuminate this for me.

I have been biting my tongue, since your appointment as police minister, not to say too much about the shenanigans of the police force. My friend Riah, I mean the commissioner – she who need not be a drunkard to run a bottle store – has had her hands full after the tragic events of Marikana, where police found themselves on the other side of 34 dead bodies. This is a scenario that has triggered even more tension between the police and the communities, regardless who will eventually be found at fault. The chilling evidence of mistrust of the police found by the Marikana Commission and led by the Anglican Bishop of Pretoria leaves me cold and it should worry you somewhat.

Minister, what on earth are you going to do to restore the faith of the public in the police? How can it be right, that even after discovering that you have these criminals in your midst it is going to take up to a year to remove these people from the police force? How is the public supposed to stop when hailed down by police in the middle of the night on our highways and byways if those who ought to be our protectors could well murder us? You have a tall order, minister, dealing with this scandal, but I cannot for the life of me see how you are going to explain this one. Why not use cautionary suspension of these police as a clear indication of your willingness to deal with this firmly? Just so that there is a semblance of comfort for those of us who will now look at anything blue as blue murder?

Of course the big question is where on earth our intelligence services are if such a scandal can happen right under our noses? Let me guess: none of these 1,500 are amongst the ministerial VIP protectors? God forbid, hey? Or am I being generous to our intelligence, given that the minister responsible for state security has been spending time trying to muzzle freedom of expression while his wife was selling drugs under his nose? Is it maybe expecting too much that he would, at the very least, ensure that the people we call cops are not known and convicted criminals. I am very angry, minister, as you should be also, having to explain this indefensible situation. This is not happening. After 20 years at it, can’t we just get some basic things right?

And as if all were not enough, you are now spending precious resources refusing the investigation of the same police force in the Western Cape. I am sure there are big political reasons for you to be doing such a thing, but that really must vanish after the admission that you have these criminals on the books. It begs the question, why, exactly, would these criminals not collude with drug lords in the Cape Flats? Now all the anecdotes about police tipping off criminals to avoid raids and so on are becoming more believable. Minister, they are their mates, after all. While we must resist generalisations, given the many men in blue who are trying to do a good job, it is hard to ignore that more than 100 police in each province have criminal records for crimes such as murder. You want me to rest easy knowing that these people are given an official firearm, paid for by taxpayers money, that they can use anytime against you and me, between now and in a year from now when you promise you will get rid of them? Let’s be serious, minister. Tell me this inaction will include those with criminal records who are in the VIP bodyguard unit for the members of the Cabinet? I don’t think so.

I hope, in the time that you have remaining in your not so fantastic term of office, you will do something to redeem the image of our police which now lies in such shambles. We have become a police force that is not ashamed to admit hiring a private security force to guard a police station. We have become a police force that admits that we have police members who have no driver’s licences. What is next, only God can illuminate. Dear minister, please do something before dawn. Fire these criminal police now. Oh, and finally, I am sure the rumour that Luminance will be knitting the new police force uniform has no basis in truth – Yes? No?

Be safe, crime is everywhere these days.

Yours Frankly,

Onkgopotse JJ Tabane DM


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