Sheriff Mbalula

William Saunderson-Meyer says our new police minister certainly knows how to shoot from the hip


Mbalula: The Sheriff who shoots from the hip

There’s a new Sheriff in town and the baddies better head for cover. That’s the proud boast of Police Minister Fikile Mbalula at a media briefing where he this week outlined his strategic plan for the next two years.

On past performance, Mbalula is hardly an obvious choice for getting South Africa’s high and spiralling levels of violent crime under control. His stint in the Sport and Recreation portfolio was entertaining, but achieved little in concrete terms.

At the briefing, Mbalula got off to a fine start by blaming Zimbabweans for entering SA illegally to commit crimes. To “rob, terrorise, and kill,” as he put it.

“There are Zimbabwean ex-soldiers who are in this country, robbing banks and promoting criminality. They are running away from Uncle Bob [Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe].

“In Zimbabwe once you are a soldier, you are a soldier for life … So to get out of it they run to South Africa … and rob banks. They are on the payroll of criminals and we can’t trace them. 

“If a South African steals, it’s easy to trace them because I will find you somewhere in the forensics because I have your fingerprints. I’ve got you all covered, South Africans.” 

Uncle Bob, sensitive soul that he is, has since lodged a formal complaint via his ambassador in Pretoria over the remarks. Mbalula will, no doubt, be flabbergasted. 

As he pointed out to the journalists, such comments should not be interpreted as xenophobic, since there are also “very good” Zimbabweans in SA. “They are working in our kitchens, they are highly educated people. 

“If there is anything that President Mugabe did was to educate his people. The people working in your kitchens are doctors. They are more educated than you. They are Zimbabweans.”

Despite this penchant for shooting from the hip, Mbalula is more clowning fool than gunslinger, more an entertainer than an achiever. But like his predecessors in the job, he has quickly embraced the rhetoric of talking tough. 

“I am not going to allow rogueness (sic) to happen in this country, to continue willy nilly undeterred and the state being undermined,” Mbalula said. The police must be “ruthless” and “shoot to kill”. “Fire will be met with fire.” 

This echoes the words of former Deputy Police Minister Susan Shabangu, some eight years ago, who told her officers, “You must kill the bastards. You must not worry about the regulations … [you] have permission to kill these criminals.

“I won’t tolerate any pathetic excuses for you not being able to deal with crime. You have been given guns, now use them. I want no warning shots. You have one shot and it must be a kill shot.”

At the time, her words drew popular support from a general public fed up with lawlessness. They also drew condemnation from those warning about the human rights implications of her approach. 

At the Farlam Commission hearings into the 2102 police shooting of 41 demonstrating miners, it was suggested by counsel representing the bereaved the families, that the SAPS had internalised Shabangu’s words as “licence to kill”.

However, no matter how pleasing to the ear Shabangu’s tough talk was to ordinary citizens at the sharp end, what they didn’t do was improve the effectiveness of policing. Levels of violent crime are higher now than they have ever been and each year edge up a little more.

Crime is out of control not because SAPS is outgunned on the streets. It is out of control for a number of reasons, including social and economic factors that are beyond the remit of any police authority to control.

But some are firmly within SAPS control. One obvious reason why the SAPS is losing the war against crime is because of the low grade of its human resources.

A substantial percentage of its officers are barely literate, poorly trained and ill disciplined. They are very often, themselves, criminals. 

Mbalula acknowledges the problem of rogue cops who “work with criminals and who are in the payroll of criminals. Gangsters are owning police officers ... You give an order and then police officers put a blind eye to that particular order because they are in the payroll of criminals.”  

Until Mbalula improves the quality of recruits and rids the ranks of rubbish officers, all the other strategic goals he envisages for the SAPS will fail. No ANC minister has yet had the courage to seize that particular nettle, but sometimes fools do rush in…

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