From bungling hitmen to McBride: farcical incompetence

2013-11-17 06:40

‘The case of the bungling hitmen’ headlined recently in The Daily Sun.

A trio of ineffectual hitmen made seven unsuccessful attempts to bump off business woman Nomvula Magagula from Kamhlushwa in Mpumalanga. At the eighth, the gun jammed. One of them then fetched a knife from the kitchen, but couldn't bring himself to use it on her, so they tied her up, told her to play dead, and photographed her. The pic was proof that they’d finally done the job they were paid R20 000 for. They made an escape in her Toyota HiLux, only to crash it driving out of the garage.

‘Instead of killing me, they suggested that we fake my death to satisfy my enemy who wants to get his hands on my money and estate. I gave the hitmen my laptop, cellphone and cash as a sign of gratitude,’ said Nomvula.  ‘I believe (my enemy) is still waiting for my body to be discovered.’

What a bloody great story! It has every element necessary to ensure entertaining farce as defined on by the Free Online Dictionary: ‘highly improbable plot situation, exaggerated characters, and slapstick elements used for humorous effect’. If fleshed out for theatre, these madcap antics of brazen criminals would have an audience rolling in their seats as tragi-comedy more often than not elicits laughter as the only recourse.

It’s not only the criminals who're starring in farce, however. The latest bungled police crime statistics are a perfect example of another comedy of errors.

‘Crime trend figures officially released by police are wrong’ reported the Cape Times earlier in November.  Delivered just like that - 'wrong'. The murder rate in the Western Cape, for instance, has increased by a whopping 10.1 percent according to the Institute for Security Studies, not by ‘only’ 0.5 percent as indicated by police.

I couldn’t believe what I was reading - mainly that the murder rate is alarmingly high, but also that messed up police stats is a big fail and another indication that SAPS simply seem to be bumbling along without proper structures in place to ensure effective management. ISS spokesman Gareth Newham warns: ‘This is the first time errors in statistics have occurred at police head office. It means that South Africans don’t have an accurate picture of the threats they are facing.’

Now sit back, relax, as Robert McBride takes the stage. Cabinet’s nomination of McBride to head the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) is a brilliant dash of horseplay which should get hands clapping in glee.

He’ll certainly get more laughs than Dr Mark Shaw would have, reported by Beeld to be one of the rejected shortlisted candidates. The Jaundiced Eye spells out Shaw’s credentials: Shaw ‘headed the Institute for Security Studies’ crime and police section, advised the Gauteng Safety Minister, chaired the Committee of Inquiry on Police Reform, and was chief drafter of the government’s 1998 White Paper on Safety and Security.’

In other words, neither a buffoon, nor interested in hijinks, Shaw is just too damn sane to be in the limelight.  On the other hand, McBride is sure to be good entertainment.

Thabo Seroke puts it bluntly on Voices as he describes a ‘master intimidator with a proclivity for drinking games’. The setup is absurdly comic, and we wait with bated breath for McBride's next crazy antic.

On a more serious note, if you care to peruse the IPID strategic plan, you’ll read Deputy Minister of Police MM Sotyu’s wise words: ‘The cornerstone to a Safe South Africa is zero tolerance to crime irrespective of who has committed it. The overall work of the IPID must inspire confidence in police in order to achieve its ultimate outcome of ensuring that the police service is trusted by the community and operates in line with the spirit of the constitution.’

Unfortunately, post 1994 McBride has done everything but inspire trust as he’s careened from one court room to the next as described in Greg Nicolson’s Daily Maverick column. McBride has been accused of assault, and prosecuted for gun-running and for drunken driving. Nevermind that he's got off the charges he's faced, he still got himself in hot water. Clearly a non law-abiding citizen, and a man who’s made a string of dubious choices (including the ‘86 bombing of Magoo’s Bar in Durban) McBride is no role model for high standards of ethical behavior.

It should mean something that The South African Police Union is opposed to the appointment of McBride. SAPU secretary-general Oscar Skommere made it clear: ‘We were looking for a person with good credentials. It came as a shock to us to learn that McBride had been recommended. He will be a burden to the IPID.’

In fact, his appointment might be as catastrophic as trying to hide a half-naked mistress in a bedroom cupboard as the wife walks in. McBride is cast as the charlatan, the man caught with his pants down as he stumbles across the stage with all eyes on him.

True farce is so radical, so ludicrous, that it underscores a sense of existential desperation. In this case, one has a sense of watching chaos unfold, of experiencing the utter contempt for the voter as shown by the ANC.

As author Kurt Vonnegut says, ‘Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration (and exhaustion). I prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.’

There is of course serious stuff going down too. Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has cracked down on the gravy train. Cabinet faces clamps on credit cards, big cars and luxury perks. ‘This means all officials will have a BMW 5 Series, Audi A6 or something like that,’ said Gordhan in the most droll of papers, again the Sun. Officials will fly business class only, ministers waiting for official housing will stay in rented flats not swank hotels, and public funds will no longer be used for booze.

I’m keeping a straight face.

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