Guest Column

Professionalise the police and start with its leaders

2019-03-29 06:00
Police minister Bheki Cele addresses the media on the security detail of the Global Citizen Festival on December 05, 2018 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Jaco Marais)

Police minister Bheki Cele addresses the media on the security detail of the Global Citizen Festival on December 05, 2018 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Jaco Marais)

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Due to the secretive nature of its work and the large amounts of money that SAPS Crime Intelligence works with, the importance of professional leadership in this policing environment cannot be overstated, writes Zakhele Mbhele.

The state of systemic dysfunction that has plagued the SAPS Crime Intelligence Division for at least a decade – which we have come to call "Crime-Intelligence-in-Crisis" – is an issue that the DA has long driven in a sustained effort to highlight the problem and call attention to the need for urgent remedial action.

This is alongside the other two major thrusts of issue-driving in the Police portfolio: "The 4 Us" of under-staffing, under-resourcing, under-equipping and under-training at station level and "Detectives-in-Distress". These operational problems all stem from the same basic problem: chronic mismanagement, rooted in cronyism and politicisation of the South African Police Service (SAPS), a natural consequence of the governing ANC's cadre deployment policy.

This dysfunction of SAPS Crime Intelligence has long been self-evident, not least because violent and organised crime has been increasing year-on-year since 2012. According to the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), violent and organised crime had increased by 40% this time last year since the collapse of Crime Intelligence started during the tenure of the former divisional commissioner, Richard Mdluli.

These are the crimes that we all fear on a daily basis because they entail direct violations of our property and person: carjackings, house and business robberies and burglaries, street robberies (muggings) and theft of/out of motor vehicles.

READ: Mokgoro inquiry - How charges were dropped against Mdluli

They are also the crimes that can only be tackled effectively through crime intelligence for sustained reduction because they are driven by syndicates or criminal gangs who are often well-organised and resourced, as well highly motivated because their criminal activities are almost always quite lucrative and profitable. Thus, police Crime Intelligence needs to undertake sophisticated collection, collation, analysis, coordination and dissemination of crime information to ensure intelligence-led policing that contributes to the surveillance, infiltration, displacement and ultimately neutralisation of crime syndicate activities.

Due to the sensitive and secretive nature of its work and the large amounts of hidden money that SAPS Crime Intelligence works with, the crucial importance of professional and ethical leadership in this policing environment cannot be overstated. Unfortunately, we had precisely the opposite of that with the previous division head.

As part of enabling the state capture project, former president Jacob Zuma typically selected dishonest, corrupt or incompetent people to head South Africa's security agencies, of which Mdluli was a prime example.

Mdluli's tenure was characterised by alleged high-level corruption and fraud and plunged the police into disarray. A litany of misconduct allegations was pointed at him. From nepotism (Mdluli's family members were appointed to the crime intelligence agent programme without merit) and misuse of state resources (allegedly abusing covert state vehicles that he was not entitled to and various safe houses were rented by the police for the sole use of Mdluli and his family) to use of crime intelligence for political partisan ends, including buying influence and access in ANC factional battles.

Despite all this, Mdluli remained on a seven-year, fully-paid suspension, costing the taxpayer R8.3m, before he finally was purged from the police with a golden handshake.

The Mdluli saga meant that a number of highly skilled and experienced Crime Intelligence officers were removed, as they posed a threat to him and his narrow agenda. The division was gutted and crippled, which is why criminal syndicates now operate with impunity in South Africa, without any fear. 

According to Dr Johan Burger of the ISS, "Generally speaking…the police's ability to generate crime intelligence has deteriorated to the extent that criminals no longer fear to be identified and prosecuted so that creates space for organised criminal groups to act almost freely throughout the country…".

Therefore, if rational analysis shows that it was cronyism trumping competence and putting politics before professionalism that broke the SAPS Crime Intelligence Division, and indeed the whole police service, then it is the opposite approach that will fix it, starting with an overhaul of police leadership.

The DA's policing reform proposals are rooted in the need for a strong professionalisation drive, resting on three non-negotiables: a) fit-for-purpose appointments and promotions, b) quality and ongoing training and, c) consistent and strong accountability enforcement and performance management.

It is now glaringly obvious that the fundamental problem we face as a country in effectively tackling and reducing crime is a lack of political will within the ANC national government to do the things that are required to turn the police service around to make it an effective crime-fighting organisation. 

The only solution to these problems so that we stand a chance of reducing crime, and in particular rescuing SAPS Crime Intelligence, is for the ANC to be voted out of power, and for a new national government to be installed at the 2019 general elections that will have the political will to fix the fundamentals in the police.

- Zakhele Mbhele is a DA MP and the party's spokesperson on police.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    saps  |  richard mdluli  |  police  |  crime
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