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Thabo Bester saga – Bheki Cele needed to show empathy, not glib defensiveness

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Zukiswa Pikoli is a journalist and columnist at Daily Maverick and is part of the founding team of Maverick Citizen. Prior to Daily Maverick she worked as a communications and advocacy officer at Public Interest Law Centre SECTION27.

In a country with soaring gender-based violence statistics, I find it very concerning that the police minister would show such disregard for the potential impact on Thabo Bester’s victims.

The “Bonnie and Clyde” story of Facebook rapist and murderer Thabo Bester and celebrity doctor Nandipha Magudumana has gripped the nation as it has played out in a theatrical and jaw-­dropping fashion.

I won’t go into detail about each salacious episode. What I do want to look at is the inquiry launched by the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services, particularly the terse exchange between member of Parliament Glynnis Breytenbach and Police Minister Bheki Cele.

“It’s an absolute disgrace that the victims of this man were not warned, were not prepared, were not protected,” Breytenbach fired at Cele. “It’s an absolute disgrace and you should hang your head in shame, all of you. It’s no way to treat people.

“But the most important thing, answer me this: while you were so busy protecting the secrecy of your investigation and de­­ciding not to warn the South African public, who incidentally expect all of us here to protect them and all of us here have failed them, if Bester had murdered another woman, raped another woman, what would you have said then?” she asked.

Cele answered glibly: “Well, I’m not a speculator. That has not happened. And secondly, I know you’re a prosecutor, a vintage one for that matter, but don’t tell me about investigating and the police.”

The thing about our GBV statistics is that these are actually people with hopes and dreams, families and loved ones – not just numbers – and this is what Cele missed.

What struck me about the exchange was Cele’s callous response when asked about the protection of Bester’s victims. He came off as more defensive than empathetic.

In a country with soaring gender-based violence (GBV) statistics, which Bester obviously contributed to, I find it very concerning that the minister of police would show such disregard for the potential impact on Bester’s victims.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Thabo Bester saga illustrates the state disintegration that endangers the public

To me, his attitude played down the seriousness of GBV, and yet it has been reported that between October and December 2022 a staggering 1,101 women were murdered and 21,434 suffered attempted murder or grievous bodily harm.

South Africa is ranked third in the world in rape statistics. Between October and December 2022, 5,935 cases of rape were reported and sexual offences cases increased by almost 10%. This has even prompted calls for decisive action from international organisations such as Unicef and Human Rights Watch.

The thing about our GBV statistics is that these are actually people with hopes and dreams, families and loved ones – not just numbers – and this is what Cele missed.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Unacceptable’ spike in gender-based violence and femicide as lawlessness continues to grip South Africa

We cannot afford to be so desensitised to something as serious as GBV simply because we are not part of the statistics. This applies especially to someone as senior as the minister of police, whose job it is to protect people from this violence.

Bester’s rape victims and the family of his murder victim would have been re­­traumatised if he had encountered them again, and we, the public, were also unknowingly endangered, as he could have claimed other victims.

I have no doubt that the work of the police is difficult and must sometimes be carried out in secret, but I think in this instance Cele’s posture should have been mea culpa rather than defensiveness. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.

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  • Richard Bryant says:

    I cannot visualise any scenario where SAPS will improve at any level with this idiot in the hat as Minister. Everyone knows that. But of course, his continued employment in the position is more to do with internal politics in the ANC than the safety of our people. Like with every decision made by Ramaphosa, it’s about a balancing act regarding factions in the ANC. Stuff the people of SA.

  • Mike Trow says:

    Just another narcissistic sociopath, he’s proved it time and again.

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