Bheki Cele is back with the police: Why he's the right man for the job

2018-02-27 13:07
Bheki Cele Picture: Craig Nieuwenhuizen

Bheki Cele Picture: Craig Nieuwenhuizen

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From Minister "Fear Fokkol" to Minister "Shoot to kill", South Africa has a new police minister and, despite a past of dodgy tender dealings, he is probably the right man for the job.

General Bheki Cele was appointed police minister on Monday night in a Cabinet reshuffle that saw ten ministers lose their jobs. He takes over from Fikile Mbabula, who was appointed to the portfolio by former president Jacob Zuma in March 2017.

The former police commissioner - who is also famous for his wide range of Panama and fedora hats - has a complicated legacy in this field and often made headlines for the wrong reasons. He reportedly called for the law to be changed to allow police to "shoot to kill" criminals without worrying about "what happens after that". He afterwards denied his comments and, instead, said he meant police should "use deadly force when under attack". 

During his tenure, military ranks were reintroduced to the South African Police Service and he was awarded the rank of general. He famously told reporters that they "may now call him general" at one of his early media briefings.

In 2011, former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela found that Cele has been guilty of improper conduct and maladministration when the police authorised a R500m lease for the new SAPS headquarters in Pretoria – a deal that benefitted businessman Roux Shabangu, a friend of Zuma’s.

Zuma eventually fired Cele after a board of inquiry - mandated to establish whether he had acted corruptly, dishonestly, or with an undeclared conflict of interest - found him guilty.

Those in the know, however, say that it is more likely that Zuma fired Cele because of the support he had showed for investigations into allies of the president.

Dr Johan Burger, from the Institute for Security Studies, says there are a lot of reasons to be positive about Cele's appointment. 

"There will obviously be a lot of critique, but Cele did a lot of things right that I believe he doesn't get enough credit for," he says. "For instance, the stats show that, during his three years as police commissioner, the most serious crimes either declined or stabilised. Ever since he left, crime stats have been on the up.

"Regarding the lease irregularities, nowhere in the Public Protector's report or the board of investigation's report are there any allegations of dishonesty or corruption against Cele himself. It was mainly about maladministration and it is my understanding that he signed those contracts in good faith on the advice of trusted colleagues in the police after only being in the job for a short while."

Another positive on Cele's record was that he had shown great support for former KwaZulu-Natal Hawks boss General Johan Booysen in his investigations of alleged procurement irregularities concerning SAPS, despite pressure from the president's office to get rid of him.

"He has a lot of support in the police force and is widely respected," says Burger.

"Critique that he militarised the police is also not true. While the names of the police ranks changed, the ranks themselves effectively stayed the same. This was something then-president Zuma asked for, and he merely implemented."

Regardless of what you think of his appointment, Cele will have a mammoth task ahead of him to root out corruption in the police service and tackle crime rates.

"His time as police commissioner would've prepared him well for this job. With the backing of someone like Ramaphosa, his hand will likely be strengthened and I dare say that we have high hopes for the police service under his leadership," says Burger.

Read more on:    bheki cele  |  police commissioner  |  police  |  saps  |  cabinet reshuffle

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