She’s well-qualified, experienced and passionate about her new job – and she knows she’s going to have to work twice as hard as any man.
Jennifer Ntlatseng is the new executive director of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) – and the first woman to occupy the post in its 23 years of existence.
This is no ordinary post – heading up the vitally important body that’s tasked with preventing police abuse of power is a major responsibility, particularly at a time when allegations of corruption seem to be leaking out of every government department.
It won’t be easy to restore the community’s confidence and trust in the police. Perhaps that’s why Police minister Bheki Cele urged Ntlatseng to exercise her duties “without fear or favour” when he announced her appointment earlier this month.
He added, “Her appointment couldn’t have come at a better time as it is during Women’s Month, and as government is trying to improve gender representation through the appointment of more women as heads of institutions and in senior management positions.”
DRUM speaks to Ntlatseng about women in leadership structures and how she plans to steer Ipid towards a brighter future.
Who is Jennifer Ntlatseng?
Born and raised in Soweto, Ntlatseng is a 49-year-old mother of two with extensive service in community and provincial safety.
Her professional career kicked off in an administrative role in the Gauteng provincial department of community safety in 1995. She went on to obtain a Bachelor’s degree from Unisa.
From 2001 to 2004, she served as an assistant director in youth crime prevention in the same department, becoming a deputy director in community police relations for a year before being promoted to director for the Gauteng provincial department of community safety.
She occupied this role until 2017, and also served as a member of the Gauteng community forum board for two decades.
It’s an impressive CV, but Ntlatseng says she’s familiar with the scrutiny that follows women in senior management positions.
“When a woman is appointed, we are questioned, even by our own colleagues, based on gender stereotypes and ideas that certain positions are not suitable for women. If we have all the qualifications, the capabilities and experience, what makes it hard to believe that a woman can occupy that role?
“I’m aware I need to work twice as hard than my male counterparts because I need to prove to communities out there I am indeed qualified to occupy this role, capable in my strategic knowledge and leadership skills, and able to run with this post and make sure there is a positive impact made on safety and policing issues in our communities.”
Ntlatseng is under no illusion about the challenges she faces in her new position and she tells DRUM she wants South Africans to know Ipid is in capable hands.
“I wanted to join the agency to advance my passion and skills in community safety,” she says. “I realise I have joined a very intense department where I’m faced with the mammoth task of making sure we independently provide oversight of the police.”
She plans to revise and improve certain strategies in the department, not least developing a coherent plan around gender-based violence and femicide.
“I realised there was nothing tangible – all that was being done was general compliance. And when you look at our mandate, there’s a lot more we need to do surrounding issues of sexual assault by a police officer (on- or off-duty), sexual assault or harassment while in police custody, and complaints of physical assault by a police officer,” Ntlatseng says.
Her main job is to root out systemic corruption in the police department and she believes this is how she can regain confidence, not only within the ranks of the department but also in society.
This effort needs to be reinforced by recruiting skilled and qualified forensic auditors and investigators who are aware of the importance of this task and able to do due diligence on cases of suspected corruption or negligence.
“Added to this, we need to reopen any closed, cold cases where we have not satisfied the complainant,” she says. “I want to close a case when I know the complainant is satisfied and we agree on the outcomes.”
Ntlatseng is keen to boost youth involvement and draw graduate professionals into the fold.
“We are on a drive to engage universities to assist us with their final-year students, ranging from law to forensics, to join the department and assist with the backlog of cases. The other important thing is the establishment of a panel of pathologists who will work hand in hand with the students,” she says.
Her background and passion for community service makes Ipid’s visibility and accessibility a top priority.
“More than anything else, we will conduct outreach programmes. Our communities need to know we are here and they can talk to us. We are also working on allocating a toll-free number for various provinces to ensure we are accessible, and I will be one of the people that citizens can reach on that number.”