Opinionista Lebo Keswa 3 February 2015

If I were Minister of Police

Corruption in our country is now so far gone that it’s hard to imagine anything being left for any of us. It’s time for a drastic shake-up. Here are some suggestions.

Journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika warns in his book Nothing Left to Steal that we are approaching a state of affairs in South Africa where corruption will be so endemic that all our resources will be gone. Sometimes, I wonder whether I’m delusional and the only citizen who feels the way I do, or whether others take these matters as much to heart. But occasionally, like Mzilikazi’s, there is a voice that echoes my own inner one.

The resignation of Vas Soni this week left me feeling hopeless. To me, it signals that South Africa is losing the fight against corruption. Soni’s resignation is not an isolated incident, but follows hot on the heels of the inexplicable and unlawful suspension of the head of the Hawks. The minister responsible had no right to suspend someone who heads up such a crucial instrument against crime and corruption. His spokesman’s justification – that it is more important to be seen acting than not to act at all – only added to the insult.

This is the nub of the issue.

As it is, we already have a government that believes its own propaganda. Apparently, this is a culture that is only spreading.

To return to the justice cluster that is sinking: we are yet to be told what has become of the attempted suspension of the head of the National Prosecution Authority. Here is an organ of crime fighting that was once the toast of the town. Now, it is reduced to cowering under a cloud of suspicion and uncertainty.

And in the midst of all this, the Police Commissioner is on a mission to purge her senior team for whatever good reason we are daily fed – a steady stream of internal machinations and suspicious redeployments.

The script of utter collapse has already been written. No matter how you look at it, the country’s criminals must be laughing all the way home. This chaos within the highest echelons of the policing and justice systems occurs within the context of horrific crime statistics – which the government only continues to try to spin positively. (What was that about believing its own propaganda?)

The truth is that murder and other serious crimes have gone up, and it is no cliché that people simply do not feel safe in their homes. They feel this way with reason.

The police continue to be perceived as bungling up case after case, and their reputations as protectors of the public continue to take daily knocks. Just last week, we read shocking news reports of police aiding and abetting looters targeting foreign-owned shops in Soweto.

As the saying goes, a fish rots from the head, and the festering mess at the top of police leadership is clearly spreading to the bottom, where we can read of police threatening three-year-old children with guns, and where bribes and corruption are a daily occurrence.

I am not saying anything that you are not already aware of, dear reader, but the frustration of those of us supporting this government – and the ruling party – is reaching boiling point. How long are those at the helm of our movement going to leave their heads in the sand?

It is so clear that the time is ripe for a major shake-up. If I were Minister of Police, here’s what I would do, as a start.

  1. Appoint a Police Commissioner from within the police service. Commissioner Riah Phiyega tried her best, but by the looks of things, she simply did not belong. She is unlikely to break the back of crime when she is not perceived as ‘one of us’ by the police themselves. I am also unsure whether, as a woman, she has been fully accepted and not perhaps sabotaged, or whether the police themselves simply closed ranks. We should not experiment with placements for this job.
  2. The appointment of a new Commissioner should be followed by the immediate firing of over 1,500 cops who have been accused of various heinous crimes, yet are still on the police payroll. They can fight their cases at the CCMA once they are out of the system. Nothing destroys the credibility of the police faster than scandals of the police robbing or raping fellow citizens. 
  3. #LeaveDramatAlone. If I were PoliceMinister, I would not bother tinkering with the Hawks. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It’s been well established already that the Constitutional Court expects the Hawks to be independent. With the wanton interference of the current minister, it only underlines that the Court was right to insist that the Hawks should be free from political meddling. Dramat is not perfect, but the charges for which he is being hounded are neither here nor there – he has been cleared by the internal police unit tasked with such investigations. If such clearance is erroneous it is going to cost the taxpayer millions in legal fees to seek the reversal. Such money could be better spent firing and replacing corrupt cops rather than getting rid of someone who is actually competent at fighting crime. 
  4. #LeaveTheNPAAlone. The head was accused and cleared of murder when he was 17. Big deal. How many of the same politicians gunning for him have clean records when it comes to crime? Why do we have a rule of law if a person is permanently tainted once cleared by the courts?
  5. #ReestablishTheScorpions. Criminals fear a fearless organ set up to come after them. That is why Bheki Cele’s noise sent fear down their throats. It is now clear that the disbanding of the Scorpions by the ANC was illegal. It seems it has become easy these days for the ruling party to disregard the law and trample the Constitution. One hopes the courts do not tire of finding against those in the ANC who show a middle finger to the law. The breaking of the law cannot be in the names of those of us who support this once-glorious movement. Under my watch as minister of police the Scorpions would be restored to their former glory, warts and all.
  6. #ArrestAFellowMinister. There are just too many stories about Ministers who are stealing money from the fiscus through proxies – a thoroughly fraudulent activity. I imagine that the Hawks have this information. Should I ever be minister, I will arrest these Ministers in broad daylight, sending a hopefully chilling message against corruption.
  7. I would look at other areas outside the justice system, at ways of combating crime. One such way is to increase employment opportunities, which will lead to a reduction in poverty which will impact on the crime figures.
  8. Reinstate corruption charges against President Zuma. I know that’s a pipe dream right there, but then again, I am not the Minister of Police. Now you know why.
  9. I would buy a copy of Mzilikazi wa Afrika’s Nothing Left to Steal for my fellow comrades, schools and libraries across the country.

Because, if I were Minister of Police, I would trust and believe that I were appointed on the grounds of my experience and credentials – and I would set my own objectives and not become any master’s puppet, whatever the cost. DM

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