He's a policeman with a plan

By Drum Digital
15 October 2010

THE smell of paint and turpentine hangs in the air and a pile of cement lies in a corner of the large office. Workmen are everywhere, renovating the workplace of the new Gauteng commissioner of police, but his gleaming mahogany desk and maroon leather wingback chair stand in the middle of chaos, all set for business.

It’s been less than two months since Lieutenant General Mzwandile Petros took up his new post as top cop of South Africa’s most crime-ridden province and the energy he’s bringing to the provincial headquarters in Braamfontein, Joburg, is clearly catching on. Cops are walking briskly up and down corridors, piles of dockets under their arms and determined looks etched on their faces.

Petros is waiting in the boardroom, where it’s quieter. He’s a little guarded at first, and, although a small smile plays at the corners of his mouth every now and then, he’s no allsmiling, all-friendly public relations-type of cop. He fidgets in his chair, clasping and unclasping his hands as he tells us how people expect him to wave a magic wand and make all the criminals in Gauteng disappear.

“It doesn’t work like that,” he says. “It’s going to be hard. But we are going to win the fight against crime.”

There’s no doubt he has a tough job on his hands. More than 50 per cent of the country’s crime is committed in Gauteng, the smallest but most densely populated province in South Africa. Shortly after being appointed commissioner, Petros (50) declared, “If you fight crime in Gauteng, you fight crime nationally”.

“It’s unacceptable that Gauteng is being held to ransom by criminals,” he added, and in the short time he’s been in office in Jozi he’s already making a difference. He’s introduced more patrol vehicles on highways that were major hotspots for hijackings, authorised the servicing of vehicles and other infrastructure to various police stations in the province and – in September alone – seen to it that 30 corrupt cops were arrested and successfully prosecuted.

“If people thought they were getting a commissioner who would remain behind his desk and quietly oversee his R1,2 billion budget, they were wrong,” he says. He’s a go-into-the-field guy and has already addressed over 15 000 officers.

“I spent my first eight days on the job visiting police stations in the province,” he tells us. “I had meetings with senior police officers, management and new recruits. I talked to different communities – from business to religious groups, community police forums and NGOs. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in my years it’s that we have to develop partnerships with all communities.”

His 15 years in the SAPS include a stint as police commissioner of the Western Cape, where he was lauded for his role in curbing gang warfare and ensuring gang kingpins were arrested and prosecuted.

“I spent seven years as police commissioner there, and now that I’ve been given a new province to police I fully intend to improve on my weaknesses of the past,” he says.

But Petros’ tactics in Gauteng haven’t endeared him to everyone. His decision to clamp down on police officers’ sick leave and decrease their rest days have angered unions, who claim the changes were made illegally and unfairly, but Petros’ supporters claim the changes are necessary to get rid of “chancers” and to make things run more smoothly.

“I’m not here to win any popularity contests,” he says. “I’m here to bring the crime rate down. Bodies are being picked up in the gutters in Booysens, people hijack buildings and extort money from tenants, bodies are found in mine shafts. There’s a lot to be done here – we have to find out what makes this province bubble with crime like a witch’s cauldron.”

Read the full article in DRUm of 21 October 2010

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