Opinionista Solomon Makgale 19 March 2015

Inside the SAPS: Give credit where credit is due

Last week, the SAPS held their National Excellence Awards. To be sure, there are some instances where the negative headlines about corruption and mismanagement within the police service are warranted. But we should not let these poor performers take credit away from their colleagues who deserve our sincerest gratitude. Here are some of their stories.

I felt a lump in my throat when the mother of Johannesburg’s slain chartered accountant, Lawrence Moepi, gave the lead investigating officer in her son’s murder case, Warrant Officer Abraham Heyns, a lengthy embrace. The room seemingly came to a standstill, as if the 700-strong audience was wrapped up in that moment.

Teary eyes could be seen here and there across the room. It was a heart-warming moment as the Moepi brothers reunited with Warrant Officer Heyns’ team at the South African Police Service’s (SAPS) National Excellence Awards held in Kempton Park last Friday.

The purpose of the annual event is to recognise excellence in policing and reward those who go beyond the call of duty and display the SAPS’s values of professionalism, commitment and integrity. 

A letter, written by one of the brothers, Charles Moepi, described the family’s anger and grief during the year after their brother and son’s murder on 18 October 2013. As the National Commissioner of the SAPS, Riah Phiyega, read it to the audience, the message hit home how devastating a sudden and violent death is for those left behind. Charles described it as “a cold 12 months” – and that indeed chilled me to the bone.

Charles continued to describe how the SAPS’s investigating team had visited the family, kept them updated on their progress in the case and how the family and the investigating officers had held hands and prayed. He especially thanked Warrant Officer Abraham Heyns, who he said “was available to take late-night phone calls of grief and frustration”.

The determination of the investigating team successfully linked the two perpetrators, 39-year-old Mpho David Nkosi and 42-year-old Remember Siphoro, to the murder. The suspects were subsequently arrested on charges of premeditated murder and found guilty. They were each sentenced to life imprisonment and were refused leave to appeal their sentences. 

This was not the first high-profile case that the warrant officer had worked on. One of the many others was the case of William Mbatha, who is also known as the ‘king of bling’. He was charged with five counts of robbery with aggravating circumstances and three counts of kidnapping, among other charges. He was sentenced to 135 years’ imprisonment.

For me, though, the stars of the evening were two constables from the Eastern Cape who acted bravely to save the life of a newborn baby. About 15 minutes before their shift ended, a call came through of an emergency in the Ramaphosa Village in Patensie, Eastern Cape. The newborn baby was in a pit toilet, full of human faeces and other debris. 

With little regard for his personal health and safety, Constable Franklin Williams jumped into the pit and removed the baby. Constable Mildred Lobisa immediately started mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, following which worms were removed from the mouth, nose and ears of the baby. The baby survived and is growing stronger each day. This was a brave move and the two constables are worthy recipients of the coveted gold medal for bravery.

Lobisa 2

Photo: Constable Mildred Lobisa

For some people, it is an improbable contradiction in terms to have “service excellence”, “commitment”, “integrity” and “the SAPS” all in one sentence. For them, the narrative of the SAPS having hit rock bottom is all they have at the forefront of their minds. They are blinded by the steady, daily diet of screaming headlines of police ineptitude, fuelled by often biased, so-called analysts. 

I suppose one cannot blame some of these people for thinking the way they do; with all the negativity about, one cannot be faulted for wondering if anything good could come out of the SAPS. Can our officials investigate a crime properly and then assist the prosecutor to present it in court competently and secure a conviction? 

Simply, one can say that not one person in our prisons volunteered to be arrested, tried, convicted, sentenced and incarcerated. Logically, then, there are definitely a number of police officials out there diligently wading through their case dockets on hand, supporting victims and their families and securing those convictions.

In every instance where a conviction and sentence are handed down in court, an individual such as Warrant Officer Heyns has put time and effort into building a case against the accused. Sometimes the cases are straightforward and sometimes they are complex and challenging. An investigation can take many unanticipated twists and turns. The investigating officer has to manoeuvre his or her way through the case, from the moment the crime is committed, to the examination of the crime scene and collection of vital evidence, through to the chain of handling and examining the evidence, which sometimes culminates in courtroom drama in which witnesses have to undergo rigorous cross-examination.

There are dedicated, committed police officials among us – intelligent, skilled professionals who chase a case until justice ultimately prevails. Let us never take that away. Never let the relentless negative headlines detract from their selfless sacrifices or let the corrupt employees in the SAPS steal their glory.

Because that, too, is the other sad side of the coin. Sometimes the negative headlines are indeed warranted, and the skepticism of the public is justified. It is frustrating and maddening when our employees commit criminal acts, take bribes, are brutal or just downright lazy and disrespectful. The management of the SAPS, however, does not sweep it under the carpet. We investigate these cases, arrest, suspend and name and shame those officials who transgress the rule of law, or we take disciplinary action and dismiss or punish those who violate our Code of Conduct and rules and regulations. 

Criticise when necessary and do so vocally, but also give credit where it is due – which it often is. DM


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