Watchdog sacked while cops carry on conniving

03 March 2019 - 00:00 By Onkgopotse JJ Tabane

It is a sad reality that our police force is rotten to the core. Over the past 25 years we have fought a losing battle to restore the credibility of the police service. Instead, every day makes us lose faith in those who are meant to protect life and limb. It is sad for those in blue who try to do a good job that they should also be painted with this brush, but it's inevitable given the volume of citizens' accounts of how badly they are treated by the police.
The rot runs deep if you consider that just this past week another former police commissioner was arrested for alleged criminal activities after ducking the law for some time. Another former commissioner, (the now late) Jackie Selebi, was imprisoned in disgrace after consorting with the criminal underworld. Another one, Bheki Cele (who has re-emerged as minister of police) was fired after allegations of corrupt activities linked to the leasing of a police building. Cele has maintained his innocence throughout.
It is hard to find police leadership that has succeeded in bringing crime statistics down or raising the profile of the SAPS. How do we explain that just three years ago a police minister confessed in parliament that some 1,500 policemen on the SAPS payroll have criminal records ranging from fraud to rape and other ghastly crimes? It's a total mess.
I am sure there are mitigating factors that the ANC will tell us about as we march to the elections but the experience of South Africans is that of suspicion towards the police.
It is for this reason of loss of credibility that the Constitutional Assembly, when writing the constitution, established the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) as a watchdog whose key mandate is to keep an eye on the police so that the likes of former crime intelligence head Richard Mdluli, who were a law unto themselves, cannot abuse the extraordinary powers of life and death given to the police.
The operative word here is independent, because it is clear the world over that a police force by its very nature will have rogue elements in its midst who don't believe in the rule of law. We need a strong and independent Ipid to clamp down on them.
Despite his colourful past and character, Robert McBride has restored some credibility to this watchdog and must be commended for the job he has done to expose what some among the police have been doing away from the public eye. The ANC's blind parliamentary caucus, which simply seeks to toe the minister's line without much thought, has decided to agree with Cele not to renew McBride's contract. The mindless reasoning behind it defies belief. As a lawyer I was meeting with on Friday put it, the portfolio committee on police discontinued McBride's tenure in office for not getting along with a minister who is presiding over some of the worst rot we have ever seen in a police force.
This is a police force under whose watch 53 murders are committed a day. Other horrendous statistics show that crime is spiralling out of control. A head of Ipid quite frankly has no business getting along with such a minister.
This is once again - no surprise though- another own goal by the ANC akin to the killing of the Scorpions, who were exposing the scum among us. Now President Cyril Ramaphosa has to wipe egg off the ANC's face by resurrecting the Scorpions (in a way). It was not long ago when the Polokwane conference triumphalists killed them for the same reasons they want McBride retired. This is a missed opportunity to showcase the new dawn. Is Ramaphosa in on this or will he later blame Cele? Either way, this is inexplicable even without going into McBride's successes at the helm of Ipid.
Here is an ideal public servant who saved the police a staggering R180m that was being used as a slush fund and got the bigwigs who were untouchable investigated. He restored the dignity of that democracy-supporting institution.
He can walk off the stage with his head held high, but the members of parliament who failed in their oversight role and simply resigned their brains to Cele, who hoodwinked them into removing McBride, must hang their heads in shame.
• Tabane is an independent commentator and communications expert

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