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They Say a Fish Rots From Its Head

Published on 2012-05-21

Crime is a major concern to all South Africans. So the news that SAPS is cutting staff numbers by 9 000 is not at all welcome – unless they have identified the corrupt ones for culling.

Taking a closer look at the SAPS reveals not a pretty picture.

They say a fish rots from its head. And our police Commissioners bear this one out: Jackie Selebi jailed for 15 years for corruption (if he hasn’t been freed under the Freedom Day Amnesty that puts 14 651 jailed criminals back on the street), and Bheki Cele who has been suspended for questionable activities, and now Richard Mdluli, who is facing corruption, theft and murder charges and also faces suspension.

What is the thread through all of this? Each of these three men were political appointees, not career policemen, whose own morality is questionable.

The result is a demoralised and leaderless police service increasingly accused of crime.

If you look at the Institute for Social Studies research, interesting issues emerge  Following criticisms that the South African Police Service (SAPS) was brutal, the National Commissioner of the SAPS, Bheki Cele, was reported in the media as saying on May 10, 2011 that ‘police officials are only a reflection of the [violent] society from which they [the police] come’”. This is the man who reverted police ranks to the old Apartheid military structures so that he could be a Lieutenant General. That speaks volumes.

Further information reveals that “South Africa has a murder rate of 34 murders per 100 000 people which is seven times higher than the international average”

This lead me to a new website, www.crimestatssa.com. which analyses crime in South Africa over a 10 year period by precinct and by crime. Here I learned that 45 people are murdered a day in South Africa. That’s 16 000 between 2010 and 2011. And 145 000 since 2002.

Now we know the scenario, what are the police doing?

Apparently becoming equally violent and criminalised.

Further research revealed that “At a press conference on June 2, 2011 the ICD Executive Director Francois Beukman said that they are currently investigating an estimated 6 000 cases against members of the police. According to the ICD’s Annual Report for 2009/10 the number of criminal complaints against the police increased by 285% since the ICD was established in 1997.”

And a book entitled, ‘The police we deserve’, edited by Alderson and Stead and published in 1973 in Britain argues that, “the police, like laws, reflect the nature of the society which they serve. Corrupt societies deserve, and get, corrupt police. Totalitarian societies acquire omnipotent police. Violent societies get violent police. Tolerant societies get tolerant police. Wise societies bridle police powers”

Over the past four years, SA’s score has dropped on the Transparency International corruption perceptions index to a post-1995 low of 4,1 points last year, from our highest rating of 5,1 in 2007. We have dropped from 54th in 2010 to 64th on the world ranking of 182 countries this year.

On 10 April 2012  The Star published an article titled, ‘Stress, frustration, wreck police force’, that pointed out how allegations of mismanagement at the highest levels has tarnished the image of the police and how it complicates the lives of ordinary police members. The negative impact of bad leadership on the morale of police members cannot be separated. A police service suffering from poor leadership and low morale cannot effectively perform its mandate. The situation has clearly deteriorated to the point where the credibility of police leadership at both a political and operational level have been so severely undermined that external intervention is sorely needed.  The Minister of Police who would ordinarily be responsible for addressing leadership problems, now stands accused of interfering to protect Mdluli while also irregularly benefiting from the Secret Service Account to the tune of R195 000 for renovations to his private residence and lying about it to the media.

And police brutality keeps making the news: Take the sub judice case of Andries Tatane, the delivery protester allegedly beaten up and then shot by a policemen in Ficksburg in the Eastern Freestate. As these delivery protest gather in intensity and frequency, reports of police strong-arm tactics increase. The Times had more shocking news to report. According to David Lewis, executive director of Corruption Watch, half of Johannesburg's metro police have been guilty of soliciting a bribe and one in four of the city's motorists has paid a bribe.

Clearly we have a problem in Johannesburg - and it is reasonable to assume that it is not restricted to Gauteng. On Friday afternoon I listened to a report on 702 where Ryan Pickford was interviewed. Last week he was hijacked by a group “posing” as policemen. Except at least two of them he swears are the genuine article. He feels so strongly about this (and has found that it appears to be a growing trend that he has started an initiative called ‘Enough!’ which can be followed on immediately on Facebook while a website is constructed.


What to do?


The political platitudes of crime getting better just don’t wash. I could see that from Crime stats sa and their information that goes back a decade.


Just as there must be a separation of interest between the judiciary and government, so the same must apply to the police.


A career policemen must run the force. And he must be dedicated to wiping out corruption and crime among those who are supposed to serve and protect.