Cele in the wings

2014-10-31 00:00

THE call to reinstate exiled former police commissioner Bheki Cele is gaining momentum, and signifies a complete loss of confidence in Riah Phiyega.

The murder of soccer star Senzo Meyiwa during a botched robbery in Vosloorus was the tipping point for many South Africans, and directed the lenses of news cameras across the world onto our parlous crime problem.

His murder, which was to a large extent impossible to predict or prevent, will indelibly blight Phiyega’s tenure as national police commissioner further.

The embattled top cop has moved from one blunder to another, and she now has to try to hunker down as a ministerial inquiry is launched into her conduct, and the efficacy of police management as a whole.

Social media was awash with #bringbackbhekicele tweets and posts, and they provide a key insight into the person on the street’s state of mind.

Because of the love so many had for Meyiwa, his tragic death made us all feel a personal sense of loss.

While it would be flippant to discount the loss to his family and to the country, his death may become a catalyst for change, or at least it should.

Never before has the nation been as united in its stance that we need to make some changes.

And as this story grips the nation, Cele waits in the wings.

Cele is not exactly your quintessential politician.

He is a mix of fedora hats and tough talk.

In my career as a journalist, when I hear the steady flow of political rhetoric, I subconsciously align it to grandstanding for the cause of public relations.

Cele, on the other hand, seems to mean what he says and his tough talk is believable.

It is this authenticity that bought him major credit within the ranks of police officers who had fallen under the command of Jacob Zuma’s political appointee.

But unlike Jackie Selebi before him, Cele wooed the police officers like no one else could.

He did this by understanding that his officers lived in the line of fire, and he backed them to fight back.

Few people will forget his famous “shoot to kill” statement that empowered cops to use deadly force when necessary, which does not always jibe with our liberal Constitution.

He is a man who says what he thinks without sugar-coating it, and I think that is something that earns him immense respect.

I deal with police officers every day who are absolutely hankering for his return, especially after The Witness broke the news that he would approach the courts to get his job back.

I like the man, and I think his style of leadership, which assures the buy-in of all those in his command, is what our beleaguered police service needs.

I say give him his uniform back and let him loose on the criminals who lay siege to this country.

This view will no doubt place me in good favour of every police officer I know, but will set me up for strong criticism from the opposing camp.

Whoever calls for his reinstatement needs to be mindful of why he was sacked in the first place.

A board of inquiry and the public protector found that he had erred in the awarding of a multimillion-rand lease deal to Roux Shabangu.

KZN Violence Monitor’s Mary de Haas has described the idea of his return as “ludicrous”, relegating this notion to the annals of insanity.

Firebrand opposition police minister Dianne Kohler-Barnard will also have me in her cross hairs, and the mere suggestion of him taking back the reins prompted her to ask if I had lost my mind.

The reality is this: we find ourselves in a situation where something drastic needs to be done, and if Cele is the answer to our crime woes, then I will take him.

Our story on Cele’s return brought in the highest number of shares and re­tweets, and that should be an indicator of something.

• Jeff Wicks is a reporter at The Witness.

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