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The dismissal of Jeremy Vearey — and the case of a re...

Defend Truth

Opinionista

The dismissal of Jeremy Vearey — and the case of a regressing police service

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David Africa is a national security and geopolitical analyst with a specific interest in African security. He directs the African Centre for Security and Intelligence Praxis (ACSIP), a think and do tank committed to developing South African national security capability. David writes here in his personal capacity.

The dismissal of Major-General Jeremy Vearey, purportedly for bringing the SAPS into disrepute through a number of social media posts, raises a number of critical questions on the nature of the police in a democratic South Africa, the rights of public servants to express themselves, and fundamentally the question of leadership and strategy within the SAPS.

I wish to explore the latter issue, in the context of a police service struggling with its own identity, an inability to deliver the safety and security to which the public is entitled and the critical imperative of transformation.

On the one hand, we have the issue of how the SAPS handles social commentary from within its ranks, even if these are expressed in what some might perceive as harsh or uncomplimentary terms. 

The fundamental decision taken on the post-apartheid police service was to demilitarise it and establish in its place a service-oriented police organisation free of the militarised use of force, the rejection of a nonsensical culture of military discipline and disposing of the untouchable big man syndrome that characterised its leaders at all levels.

By all accounts and contrary to the repeated declarations of ANC leaders, ministers of police and police commissioners, this effort has failed dismally.

This is largely because its implementation has been sabotaged by those embedded both in the ruling ANC and the apartheid-era apparatchiks within SAPS who have attached themselves to ANC politicians attracted to the idea of militarisation, force and the personality cult. 

This phenomenon represents an example of the larger problem with the transformative project in South Africa: an ANC that is bereft of ideas, has lost its ability to imagine a better world and has failed to transform the state, society or government. 

Into this breach has stepped a coterie of apartheid-era police officers who have learnt to recite the language of the ANC without being committed to its transformative mission. 

For the government, the risk from this development is an increased alienation from the people, a rejection of the legitimacy of the police and its methods and the emergence of alternative non-state instruments of coercion and violence.

The effect of this, as far as the Vearey case is concerned, is both an intolerance of criticism and unconventional commentary, and a thin-skinned fear of defamation by people whose poor performance is by its very nature a defamation of the entire republic and its citizenry. 

Marx, in the essay, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, makes two simple yet profound statements, and the similarity of the Bonapartist coup in France with the unwinding of the ANC’s transformative policing strategy is aptly captured in these. 

First, he states that the work is intended to “demonstrate how the class struggle… created circumstances and relationships that made it possible for a grotesque mediocrity to play a hero’s part.” 

The problem with our national SAPS leadership is that it represents exactly this kind of mediocrity, and realising this themselves, they live in constant fear of those who might think differently and heaven forbid, speak and write about this. 

Having at their disposal, or rather having been placed in charge of the instruments of coercion by the ANC, they weaponise the rules, systems and procedures at their disposal to cover their thin skins and avoid the exposure of their abject performance in delivering security to the South African people.

Marx further states that “every giant… presupposes a dwarf, every genius a hidebound philistine… The first are too great for this world, and so they are thrown out. But the latter strike root in it and remain.” 

This is the case of Vearey and the SAPS leadership encapsulated in simple terms.

On the other hand, it is an indisputable fact that the SAPS lacks the ability to craft a new strategic orientation and the capacity to innovate new forms of, and approaches to, policing. 

If we adopt, for a brief moment, the absurd proposition that Vearey offended the national commissioner of police, the response to his statements is, in the first instance, grossly out of proportion, but also a decisive blow against developing police capability through the expelling of one of its foremost strategic minds. 

Anyone who knows Vearey knows him as a thoughtful and deliberate thinker who has much to contribute to policing strategy and approaches. 

His achievements in building community and police cohesion in Mitchells Plain during his tenure as commissioner there, designing approaches that have led to the conviction of several high-profile gang leaders and his central role in uncovering the massive guns-to-gangs scheme run by apartheid-era police officers are the sort of achievements that need to be emulated, studied and integrated into strategy and doctrine. 

The expulsion of a key proponent of these ideas and practices sets the SAPS firmly back on the route to a police force of which Adriaan Vlok and Louis le Grange would be proud. DM

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All Comments 11

  • As a Marxist you should appreciate the complete failure of cadre deployment. All effective police forces in the world have a strict hierarchical structure and the failure of policing in SA has nothing to do with the past.

    • Not so mr.Japhet. have you forgotten where Mdluli and Berning the Liar came from. Or perhaps you think Riya and Hlobane and Jackie did great work.

  • To the police “Black lives matter (or for that matter, all lives matter)” is something that they simply do not adhere to. Especially Sitole and Cele and the top brass. Remember Cele firing Ipid boss McBride for exposing the crimes in the police. This was firmly defended by the ANC in parliament. Now, again, a good cop like Vearey is fired for exposing the police for what it is.

    • It is of concern to me that somehow 3 top cops who are exposing other cops are in the firing line. Of course it is purely coincidental that these three are ‘coloured’ people and being persecuted by ‘black’ people whose hands are stained i.e., Vuma and Sitole. Strange times. And all the major ructions are in DA controlled WCape. Mmmmm

  • You may very well be correct. An apartheid police force steeped in kragdadigheid, and equipped with guns, riot squads, rubber bullets (which are not rubber, btw), and thin-skinned bullying was always going to be a big ask. Demilitarising the SAPS was a significant signal of change required by our Constitutional nexus.
    However,
    1. Old habits die hard. 2. SAPS working conditions are horrendous. 3. the sheer scale of crime is overwhelming 4. poorly trained and ill-equipped cops let loose on communities. 5. criminal cops. 6. corrupt cops. 7. SAPS used as a political football (Selebi), and now we are where we are.
    It’s not hard to see why.

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