Every day South African news outlets report on a new enormity within the organisation that is the South African Police Service (SAPS). Whether it be the assassination of Charl Kinnear, the suspension and ensuing legal battles of General Peter Jacobs, the ill-advised and indiscriminate use of rubber bullets to end or disperse a demonstration, the disciplinary case against Major-General Jeremy Vearey, or the latest iteration: corruption on a grandiose scale in the procurement of PPE. If that even is where R1.6-billion actually went.
It would be difficult to contend that all is well within the SAPS. That, with the SAPS, we are looking at a modern, competent and professional police force adhering to laws of responsibility and accountability, professionalism and transparency. Because we are not.
The SAPS is an unprofessional, moribund, corrupt, incompetent and inward-looking organisation. A reality that can be squarely blamed on the people who are meant to lead this organisation in their task to protect all citizens against illegal acts and to serve the community.
A succession of national commissioners showed themselves utterly unable – as well as some of them totally unworthy – to fulfil the requirements of this office, seemingly much more interested in their personal gain and backroom dealings than in securing for the SAPS a future where professionalism, responsibility and accountability form an integral part of morals and values held throughout the ranks.
The current national commissioner, General Khehla Sitole, has even taken it upon himself to ignore directives given to him by the minister of police directly. And all, so it seems, without any consequence attached.
I worked as an expert witness during the Marikana Commission of Inquiry and subsequently as a member of the panel of experts. At long last the report of the panel has been made public. And as news cycles go, the story had its shelf life and has by and large disappeared from public view.
That report, the annexes to it and the solid work done by the panel, never interested the SAPS leadership. The contempt and disdain shown to the panel and its chairperson during the deliberations; the lack of openness and cooperation, is something I have never beheld in 30 years of work with police forces in more than 60 countries.
I appreciate the attempts of all those people out there who, for example, try to persuade the SAPS to ban the use of rubber bullets. Like I tried in March 2013 to get the SAPS to realise that the continued presence of the R5 rifle in public order operations was simply wrong. To no avail.
Judge Ian Farlam tested the waters and asked then police commissioner General Riah Phiyega whether that continued use was irresponsible. She answered with an emphatic, “no, chair”.
I held then, as I hold now, that decisions on the use of the R5 and the use of rubber bullets are not decisions for the SAPS to make. That policy must be set outside the SAPS, at the ministerial level. Like so many other decisions, it appears the SAPS is pretty much a law unto itself, with no accountability or deference to higher authority, even national law, as there should be.
Commissions of inquiry, panels of experts… they are only ever empowered to make recommendations. As I have said before, they buy time for an embattled government in which to prevaricate and do nothing.
The work of the panel of experts is the responsibility of the minister of police. He needs to instruct the SAPS to implement the panel’s recommendations. And I mean, implement. Not lip service. Not unfounded claims that “much” has been done. For we can see, on a daily basis, that not to be true.
It is time to stop the rot. This cannot be done through recommendations and advice which are studiously ignored and put aside.
The SAPS needs to be placed under administration.
An administrator needs to be overseeing SAPS expenditure and procurement until such time as the SAPS’s financial dealings can be deemed to be in keeping with existing accountancy rules and guidelines once again.
More importantly, for the sake of the South African public, and for the sake of those thousands of well-meaning SAPS members, police management needs to be placed into receivership.
An acknowledgement needs to be made that the incompetence, intransigence and outright ill-will in SAPS management have driven the organisation, and South African society with it, to the brink of disaster.
Enough with the talk fests.
Enough with yet another set of recommendations, another panel, another opinion piece. Because our collective attempts to bring about actual change systematically fall on deaf and unwilling ears in the very top of the SAPS hierarchy. South Africa boasts brilliant minds and very capable people, including in the police.
I call on the minister of police to accept the notion that soft healers make stinking wounds. I call on him to accept that the survival of the SAPS – and through it the quality of life in South Africa – is at stake.
Enough with the half-baked measures.
Enough with the media play and local ad hoc measures.
The SAPS needs a drastic overhaul.
It requires the leadership to instill respect for the rule of law and human rights; for the edicts of professionalism and accountability, as well as for the required levels of public engagement and transparency.
The lot that currently hold the controls are clearly not up to that task. DM