The thin blue line is getting thinner

2011-10-29 18:07

On Tuesday Jackie Selebi, South Africa’s former police chief, will make a desperate last bid to stay out of jail for corruption.

At the same time a commission of inquiry will convene to determine whether his successor, General Bheki Cele, acted unlawfully or illegally in procuring new buildings for the police in Durban and Pretoria.

It is no secret that the South African Police Service (SAPS) is in crisis – again.

Management experts will tell you that no organisation in crisis mode can function optimally.

And South Africa, with our dismal crime rate (albeit slightly better than last year), needs a police force that operates optimally.

Not only for the sake of safe neighbourhoods and streets, but also to attract much-needed investment to our crime-ridden cities and towns.

It has become a cliché when writing about the SAPS, but Roman poet Juvenal’s question – who will guard the guardians – is as relevant today as it was in mid-2009, when the court found Selebi guilty of corruption.

If the South African public can no longer trust the men and women who are supposed to protect them, what have we become?

A criminal state where anything goes? Where every police officer makes up the rules as he or she chooses?

Of course there are still thousands of honest, hard-working police officers in the country who are just as appalled by the actions of their generals as the crime-wary public.

By all accounts, Lieutenant-General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi is one of them.

He is a hard-working, committed policeman who has come through the ranks not because he knew the right politicians, but because he is good.

Mkhwanazi does not have an easy task ahead of him. The SAPS is inherently bureaucratic and he should not expect flowers or biltong on his desk from his superiors.

After all, he jumped over about 30 heads to reach the office of national commissioner.

He should surround himself with professionals who have the skills he doesn’t have. If indeed he doesn’t have financial or management experience, he should hire someone who does.

He should also take some tips from his embattled predecessors: keep your nose clean, stay clear of opportunistic “informants” and don’t sign anything if you don’t know the background to it.

» Basson is City Press assistant editor and author of Finish & Klaar: Selebi’s Fall from Interpol to the Underworld

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