New rank structure ‘aids war on crime’

2010-04-02 00:00

SENIOR police officers have welcomed their new ranks, which they say will give them strength and discipline in their fight against crime.

The new structure, which gives senior police officers military ranks, was implemented yesterday.

Police Commissioner Bheki Cele is now a general, while his spokeswoman, Nonkululeko Mbatha, who was an assistant commissioner, is a major-general.

Deputy national commissioners, division commissioners and provincial commissioners are known as lieutenant-generals. Directors have been replaced by brigadiers.

KwaZulu-Natal police spokesperson Henry Budhram will now be known as colonel instead of senior superintendent. Superintendents become lieutenant-colonels.

Provincial police spokeswoman Brigadier Phindile Hadebe, who was previously a director, said that although she is excited by her new rank she is not in a position to comment about the move.

However, a senior police officer, who is also now a brigadier, welcomed the move.

“I don’t see any problem with the new ranks because we used to have them when I joined the police force in 1985. The ranks will definitely enforce discipline, and more discipline will lead to greater commitment in the fight against crime,” said the senior officer, who declined to be named.

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa described the change in the rank structure as an attempt to catch up with international norms of getting tough on crime.

“Police forces around the world are referred to as ‘the force’ and their ranks are accordingly linked to such designations. We have taken a stance as this government of fighting crime and fighting it tough. The rank changes are therefore in line with our transformation of the force, not only in terms of a name change but change in attitude, thinking and operational duties,” said Mthathwa.

Mthethwa’s spokesman, Zweli Mnisi, said the militarisation of the police will “automatically lead to a dramatic decline in crime”.

“This should not be interpreted as merely the militarisation of the police, but as part of our new approach of being fierce towards criminals while being lenient on citizens’ safety and maintaining good discipline within the force.”

Mbatha, who sounded excited when this reporter referred to her as major-general, declined to comment about her new rank. She said that only Mthethwa and Mnisi are currently mandated to speak on the matter.

Budhram, who was a lieutenant-colonel before the ranks were changed previously, said he is hoping that he will soon get used to people addressing him by his new rank.

“Even when my rank was changed to superintendent from lieutenant-colonel it was difficult for me to get used to. SAPS is semi-military and this has got nothing to do with apartheid,” Budhram said.

South African Police Union president Lieutenant-Colonel Mpo Kwinika has mixed feelings about the new ranks.

“We welcome any move by management which eases the promotion of police. But our fear is that this was taken without any consultation,” he said.

He said the military environment that comes with new ranks may come with a closed system.

“This closed system means that the police might not be answerable to the community, including the unions.

This might be about command, control, discipline, and … [complaints may arise later], which might be taking us back. This will make it hard for CPFs [community policing forums] to work with police,” he said.

Kwinika said that only if the top brass can assure officers that they will keep an open system towards the public will the union welcome it with open hands. 

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