Governance Watch

How toxic cadre deployment paralysed SAPS

Riah Phiyega as good as gone?
Ria Phiyega.jpeg

The ANC alliance’s policy of cadre deployment has become a paralysing toxin to good governance in South Africa. (Read more)

The latest victim of this infection is the South African Police Service (SAPS). With Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega as good as gone, the service is about to get its fifth head since 1994 in a repeat of the by now familiar revolving door phenomenon at key state institutions and entities.

Tellingly the events at the SAPS mirror those over a number of years at the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). It is a process that is playing itself out while the country is experiencing a policing and crime-fighting crisis, and with general public confidence in these two key institutions at an all-time low.

What has been happening at the SAPS over the last two decades offers a good case study of the ANC’s policy of loyal cadre deployment in terms of its Strategy & Tactics documents (STDs), adopted by successive party national conferences. STDs, and cadre deployment in particular, have served as cornerstones of the ANC’s aim to secure total control over the public service.

The goal of this strategy is to drive the so-called National Democratic Revolution (NDR).

What happened in practice?

General George Fivaz, who served as the national commissioner from 1995 to 2000, was the last pre-1994 police commissioner. He was also the last career police officer to be appointed to the position.

All three commissioners who followed him were not only ANC deployees, but also civilians with no previous crime-fighting or police experience. What followed was a period of far less than ideal lack of stability at the top leadership of the SAPS, impacting negatively on the morale of the force and on public confidence in it.

Only the first one of them, Jackie Selebi, lasted a fairly respectable nine years. His successor, Bheki Cele, only lasted from 2009 until 2012. He was followed by Phiyega, who seems set to vacate the position before the end of this year.

Even more tellingly, Selebi also introduced a period of almost perpetual controversy surrounding the national commissioner:

  • Selebi himself was jailed in 2010 for 15 years on charges of corruption;
  • Cele was dismissed by President Zuma in 2012 after a board of inquiry found him unfit for office after it probed whether he had acted corruptly, dishonestly, or with an undeclared conflict of interest in relation to two police lease deals. He is also the man who controversially instructed the police to “shoot to kill and worry later”; and
  • Now Phiyega faces probable dismissal, if she does not resign beforehand. This would follow on the serious allegations of misconduct against her contained in the report of the Farlam Commission of Inquiry into the Marikana shootings of 2012 and her highly controversial politically loaded public statements since.

Illustrating to what extent the culture of blind loyalty above all else has taken hold of the SAPS at top level, the provincial commissioners had to apologise for a joint statement of support for Phiyega after it became known that her fitness to hold office was being considered. 

Impact on the country

While drama is following drama around the head of the national commissioner, the country is paying a huge price for the prevailing high levels of crime. (Aggregated estimates are putting the cost of crime at 8% of annual GDP.)

Under the cadre-deployed civilian leadership the country has seen:

  •  crime statistics dramatically worsening before arguably later stabilising somewhat;
  • key crime fighting units shut down and valuable investigative experience and resources lost;
  • the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), mandated to independently fight police misconduct and corruption, descending into controversy, scandal and leadership problems caused by cadre deployment;
  • increasing numbers of police officers arrested and charged with various crimes, suspended or leaving the service under a cloud;
  • excessive use of force often employed in public crowd-control situations;
  • the illegal rendition of Zimbabwean refugees, leading to Hawks chief Anwa Dramat departing;
  • Gauteng Hawks boss Shadrack Sibiya likely to be dismissed on the recommendation of a disciplinary committee for his involvement in the Zimbabwean affair;
  • police entering parliament in an unprecedented and highly controversial move at the request of the ANC to remove rowdy opposition MPs;
  • the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) being deployed to deal with illegal immigrants and xenophobia and then remain involved in normal crime-fighting operations; and
  • problems persisting with management, training and equipment.

Inferior training, tardy police procedures and methods have led to a high rate of deaths and injuries, not only to members of the public but also of police officers.

Criminal prosecutions are regularly thrown out of court or criminals acquitted because of inferior police investigations.

Succession speculations

In the meantime speculations about Phiyega’s possible successors have started, indicating how widely her departure is anticipated.

Most prominent among these speculations is that the job will go to the present deputy national police commissioner, Lieutenant General Elias Mawela, who heads the national joint operational and intelligence structure.

Also featuring are deputy national commissioners Kehla Sithole, head of policing operation, and Nobubele Mbekela, head of corporate service management.

But more controversy might also be in the making with two police unions each promoting a candidate of their own.

The 76 000-member South African Policing Union (SAPU) wants Cele to be reinstalled and the 160 000-member Police and Prison Civil Rights Union (POPCRU) is calling for Phiyega to be retained.

Those who have been calling for a career police officer to again take over at the head of the SAPS are hoping the job will go to Mawela. He himself is not totally controversy free. He was the officer in charge of the security and cell phone-jamming drama in parliament during the State of the Nation address in February. If appointed, he will have his work cut out for him to turn around the image and performance record of the SAPS.

by Steve Whiteman

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