Cele stands by 'shoot to kill'

Pretoria - Newly-appointed national police chief Bheki Cele has vowed to come down hard on criminals using all legal force necessary to curb South Africa's high crime levels.

"You can't be soft and you can't be moving around kissing crime. You need to be tough, because you're dealing with tough guys," he told a media conference on Wednesday.

Asked if his "cowboy" and "abrasive" attitude would follow him in his new position, he said: "Well, cowboys don't cry. Definitely, we will just fight crime. Abrasive? I'm not sure. If that's the case... I don't think that's a problem."

Cele was speaking in Pretoria after President Jacob Zuma announced his appointment as the new national commissioner of the South African Police Service.

He said he would have done his duty if, at the end of his term, South Africa was a country where women and children could walk alone without fear of attack or rape.

Shoot to kill

"I want to see a country where all are safe."

He said he stood by his call for police to "shoot to kill".

"The 1977 Criminal Act stipulates that police are allowed to use a deadly force when attacked."

Cele will replace Jackie Selebi in August.

Zuma said the criminal justice system would be overhauled in the next five years, and crime levels would be reduced.

"The filling of a key position within the Saps is a key factor towards the achievement of this goal," he said.

Cele had "distinguished himself" in a number of areas including finding solutions to taxi conflicts in KwaZulu-Natal, successful anti-crime campaigns, and improving road safety on provincial roads and highways.

"We have no doubt that Mr Cele will lead the South African Police Service efficiently and effectively," Zuma said.

'Big mistake'

However, opposition parties said Zuma had made a big mistake in appointing a political ally with no professional crime-fighting experience.

Cele's appointment "is nothing more than a political promotion for one of President Jacob Zuma's closest allies", Inkatha Freedom Party spokesperson Velaphi Ndlovu said.

Cele's appointment was "a serious blow" for the fight against crime, because he did not have the necessary experience and expertise that this high office required.

"We were hopeful that government would do the right thing by appointing a career policeman or woman with a proven track record within the Saps as South Africa's new police chief," he said.

The Democratic Alliance's Dianne Kohler-Barnard said Zuma was repeating the mistake former president Thabo Mbeki made when he appointed Selebi "a close associate of his from the ANC's political ranks" as police commissioner.

"A decade later, President Zuma has done precisely the same thing," she said.

The Congress of the People said it did not trust Cele to be impartial and did not approve of his "abrasive" manner.

It said during recent violence in KwaZulu-Natal he "never attempted to ensure neutrality of Saps in policing the area".

United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa said Selebi's stint as commissioner proved that appointing a civilian to lead the police was bad for morale.

"One has to note that the appointment of a civilian to lead trained policemen has affected the performance and the morale of the police in the past. It stands to be seen whether Cele will succeed."

Crime-fighting experience

The ANC and the South African Communist Party welcomed Cele's appointment, with the ruling party saying he would be able to lead the police with "vigour and determination" and draw on his experience "in the forefront of fighting crime in KwaZulu-Natal".

The SACP urged Cele to improve the working conditions of police officers, to fight corruption in their ranks and to fill vacancies in the force - especially in detective branches and specialised units.

At Wednesday's newss conference, Selebi - who is facing a court battle over corruption allegations - was also given high praise for the position he took up in 2000.

"We acknowledge the contribution of the former national commissioner Mr Jackie Selebi to fight against crime. His service to our country is well appreciated," Zuma said.

Cele will leave his post as KwaZulu-Natal MEC for transport and community and safety liaison to take up his new position.

According to the KwaZulu-Natal provincial website, Cele, a trained teacher, joined the ANC underground structures in the 1980s under Zuma's leadership.

He was instrumental in founding the National Education Union of South Africa.

In 1994, Cele was elected onto the party's provincial executive committee in KwaZulu-Natal.

He is currently chair of the ANC's eThekwini region and since 1994 has been an MEC for the provincial department of transport, community safety and liaison.

Selebi, whose contract expires on Friday, was placed on special leave last year pending his court case on alleged corrupt activities and defeating the ends of justice.

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