Politics killed policing

2014-11-11 06:45

I can only assume that those calling for the reinstatement of Bheki Cele as national police commissioner do not understand the nature of the crisis in policing, how it affects crime, and the type of remedial action that is needed.

No matter what position he occupies, Cele remains a dedicated ANC loyalist.

Cadre deployment has proven disastrous and only when the policing reins are handed to well-trained, professional police members can the long road to transformation from apartheid-style policing begin.

I have known Cele for many years as a charismatic and populist politician – qualities he brought to the SA Police Service. Hence the calls for his return.

But popularity is a hindrance in implementing a long-overdue, ruthless cleanup, including disciplining and dismissing errant members.

The current appalling state of policing is the consequence of 20 years of bungling and political meddling.

From the outset, the ANC messed up badly in its approach to policing.

Instead of promoting experienced people with clean track records who were not members of notorious apartheid units such as the SA Narcotics Bureau and the security police (they were interchangeable), it placed its own cadres in the ranks of the police.

At best, they were ineffectual; at worst, their interventions were disastrous.

They did not understand policing culture and were out of their depth.

The end result was that policing continued to deteriorate and specialised units at the core of fighting crime – detective services and crime intelligence – became increasingly dysfunctional and were subverted to serve political ends.

At the same time, the good guys – I know from my regular interaction with the police that there are still many of them – risk their lives (often because of corrupt colleagues) without acknowledgement or reward.

Abuse, including torture and killings by the police, continued after 1994, but has escalated in recent years, especially since the message went out to “shoot to kill”.

Marikana was a consequence of a well-established pattern of police conduct entrenched during Cele’s tenure. Crime pays, and that is why it is rampant – because of the atrocious state of the criminal justice system that starts with the police.

Apartheid-era police were brutal and corrupt, but they were at least well-trained and efficient.

Like their predecessors, far too many of the democratic-era police are exceedingly brutal and corrupt – but they are also grossly inefficient. We have had 20 years of nepotism and tokenism posturing as affirmative action.

There has been no fundamental transformation from apartheid policing.

Cadre deployment must be stopped and promotions to management, including national and provincial commissioners, must be made on the basis neither race nor political affiliation, but on being long-serving, well-trained members with clean, proven track records and management skills.

It is, of course, unlikely the powers that be will buy into that.

But if they don’t, they will continue to expose themselves as emperors without clothes when they start mouthing meaningless platitudes about fighting crime.

De Haas is an independent violence monitor in KwaZulu-Natal

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