The South African Police Service is facing its greatest crisis of legitimacy since the apartheid SAP was transformed into a democratic institution.
This week’s brutal killing of Andries Tatane by members of the police highlighted the dark underbelly of our men and women in blue.
Those police officers who shot and killed Tatane did not act like peace officers who were paid to protect society against criminals.
In scenes reminiscent of the most perverse incidents of apartheid-era police brutality, the officers behaved like a rudderless mob of gangsters with no regard for law and order.
We agree with the South African Institute of Race Relations’ open letter to Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa: “What the police are effectively engaged in is no longer a simple matter of law enforcement. Rather your officers are now at the coalface of the political struggle of poor black South Africans to be liberated from poverty.”
At the same time the police’s senior management are fighting off accusations of corruption, maladministration and, in the case of crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli, murder.
Our police service is clearly in deep, deep trouble and it would not be an exaggeration to call it an organisation in crisis.
President Jacob Zuma and Mthethwa can no longer ignore this dire situation which has led to a complete breakdown of trust in the one institution all South Africans are supposed to trust and support.
Zuma and Mthethwa need no more proof that their head of police, General Bheki Cele, is not fit for office. The blood of Andries Tatane is enough.
It would be naive to think Cele’s militarisation of the police and shoot-to-kill utterings are unrelated to the pain and humiliation Tatane had to endure this week at the hands of men who were supposed to serve and protect.
Any lesser action than the immediate removal from office of a man who clearly regards himself as above the law will be a shameful insult to the citizens of this country, and to the fatherless children and family of Meleke Andries Tatane.