No integrity required

Douglas Gibson on the calls for Bheki Cele to return as chief of police

"Integrity not a requirement." That would have to appear in the job description for the commissioner of the South African Police Services (SAPS) if the current call for the re-appointment of Mr Bheki Cele is heeded by President Zuma.

The Twitterati and fans of the fired former commissioner look with rose-coloured spectacles at his tenure, stating that crime was 9% lower then. They have forgotten that he was fired because of his administrative incompetence as commissioner and his recklessness with public money. He signed a dodgy lease deal for premises without following any of the regulations and for an amount of money rivaling his boss's Nkandla profligacy. One of the good actions of President Zuma was ridding the SAPS of this man.

Cele, now the subject of admiring calls to "bring back the general," is about as much of a general as his successor or his predecessor. "Mr" (or "Ms") one day and "general" the next. His chief weakness, apart from the vanity and the hat fetish, is his "big man" complex. Africa has seen too many "big men" and about the last thing a constitutional democracy like South Africa needs is a "big man."

Popular in the ANC, Cele had to be kept quiet and after the election he was suddenly made the deputy minister of Agriculture, in a vain attempt to appease him and to prop up the equally agriculturally-illiterate Minister Senzeni Zokwana. There we have heard nothing from him until he let it be known that he would like to be commissioner of SAPS again. No doubt with his bad record expunged, his improper conduct forgiven and his lack of judgment vindicated by his second coming.

Few worse things can be imagined than a combination of the current weak police minister, Nkosinathi Nhleko and his underwhelming deputy minister in harness with a loud-mouthed, overbearing commissioner. Clearly, the minister would not be the boss. Cele would be.

Minister Nhleko is a former ANC chief whip. During his tenure I was the DA chief whip. Of the six ANC chief whips I dealt with in thirteen years, he was one of the most amiable. He had a very pleasant smile. But he was idle. After his unsuccessful term, he went off to become the deputy commissioner of prisons in KwaZulu- Natal. Before long he became a transient director-general and then to everybody's amazement, was appointed minister. The hapless General Riah Phiyega, set up for failure in a job that was always quite beyond her, Minister Nhleko and Deputy Minister Maggie Sotyu between them are our crime fighters. No wonder the crime figures are shooting through the roof. No wonder the morale in the SAPS is so low. No wonder the public is reeling under the onslaught of the criminals.

When will the government learn that appointing incompetents for political reasons carries a price tag? One SAPS commissioner after the other has been dismal. One minister after the other has been a failure. Bringing back a dodgy, failed commissioner is not the answer. What is needed is an acceptance that even if you must have dead-weight appointees in many government jobs, you cannot afford to have inadequate people in the Police portfolio and in the SAPS itself.

Are there no suitable, respected, competent police officers (with medals they earned) in the SAPS who could be considered for appointment as commissioner? We have one of the largest centralized police forces in the world and there is a crying need for someone with management skills and police experience. I cannot believe that some of the really good people - there are some - in the upper echelons cannot be considered for the top job.

At ministerial level, the parliamentary ranks of the ANC are not all that promising. Why not consider bringing in an ANC cadre with brains, unimpeachable integrity, legal knowledge and major staying power like Willie Hofmeyr and charging him with the political responsibility of bringing down the crime rate to manageable proportions?

Don't let the public's desperation for progress in combating crime lead to the re-appointment of someone who proved himself to be entirely unsuitable as the police commissioner in a parliamentary democracy.

Douglas Gibson is a former Opposition Chief Whip and ambassador to Thailand. He was for many years the opposition spokesperson on police matters in parliament.

This article first appeared in The Star.

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