Guys with guns aren’t in charge T

CityPress - - Voices - Mondli Makhanya voices@ city­press. co. za

he Zim­bab­wean se­cu­rity ser­vices are one of those where the line be­tween loy­alty to the na­tion and loy­alty to the party is very blurred.

The top brass were trans­planted di­rectly from the lib­er­a­tion armies and put in charge of the var­i­ous arms of the se­cu­rity ser­vices. Hav­ing been trained in the Eastern bloc and China, where the com­mu­nist par­ties and the state were one, they also saw Zim­babwe and Zanu-PF as a unit.

And so it was that when Zanu-PF faced the prospect of los­ing elec­toral power in the early 2000s, the se­cu­rity chiefs were at the fore­front of mo­bil­is­ing a de­fence of Robert Mu­gabe. They as­sisted the Zanu-PF mili­tias and war vet­er­ans in the in­va­sions of farms and the bru­tal­i­sa­tion of gov­ern­ment op­po­nents. Like the se­cu­rity arms of op­pres­sive regimes the world over, they tor­tured and killed op­po­si­tion lead­ers, and clamped down on in­de­pen­dent media.

So com­mit­ted were they to the party and Mu­gabe that, on the eve of elec­tions, the uni­formed chiefs pub­licly en­dorsed Zanu-PF and warned vot­ers against back­ing the op­po­si­tion. They vowed never to salute any­one but Mu­gabe, send­ing a clear mes­sage they would not ac­cept a re­sult that was not in favour of their lib­er­a­tion move­ment.

Just be­fore the 2008 elec­tions, army chief Gen­eral Con­stan­tine Chi­wenga de­clared: “Elec­tions are com­ing, and the army will not sup­port or salute sell­outs and agents of the West be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions ... We will not sup­port any­one other than Pres­i­dent Mu­gabe, who has sac­ri­ficed a lot for this coun­try.”

Pris­ons chief Paradzai Zi­mondi, him­self a war vet­eran, echoed Chi­wenga’s sen­ti­ments and in­structed his charges on their elec­toral choices.

He was quoted by Irin news ser­vice as say­ing: “I am giv­ing you an or­der to vote for Pres­i­dent Mu­gabe; I will only sup­port the lead­er­ship of Pres­i­dent Mu­gabe, I will not salute [Simba] Makoni or [Mor­gan] Ts­van­gi­rai ... We still re­mem­ber the blood and the graves of our gallant sons and daugh­ters who died for this coun­try, and we shall not sell them out.”

Sadly, the be­hav­iour of the Zim­bab­wean se­cu­rity chiefs is not unique. It hap­pens ev­ery­where at vary­ing lev­els and takes dif­fer­ent forms. Even in the fore­most democ­ra­cies, politi­cians find it hard to re­sist abus­ing the se­cu­rity ser­vices to prop them­selves up and achieve nar­row ends. In the US, the abuse of the FBI un­der Edgar J Hoover is one such ex­am­ple.

In this coun­try, the po­lice, mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence ser­vices were once the Na­tional Party’s pri­vate army. They did ev­ery­thing to en­sure the apartheid sys­tem was strictly en­forced and dealt vi­ciously with the NP’s op­po­nents.

With this in mind, the drafters of our Con­sti­tu­tion en­sured that the pow­ers of the se­cu­rity forces would be curbed in a demo­cratic South Africa. Be­sides the bat­tery of laws and in­sti­tu­tions keep­ing them in check, the se­cu­rity arms were to be brought un­der civil­ian over­sight.

Those over­sight arms have had lim­ited suc­cess, mainly as a re­sult of gov­ern­ment not want­ing them to be ef­fec­tive. Po­lice min­is­ters and com­mis­sion­ers did not like their mem­bers be­ing po­liced and there­fore made sure the In­de­pen­dent Po­lice In­ves­tiga­tive Di­rec­torate en­joyed as lit­tle in­de­pen­dence as pos­si­ble. The po­lice sec­re­tar­iat has largely been a toy tele­phone. The in­tel­li­gence ser­vices’ in­spec­tor gen­eral has al­ways been a de­ployee of Luthuli House, tak­ing in­di­rect in­struc­tions from the mys­te­ri­ous spy floor at the ANC head­quar­ters. The pris­ons have been slightly bet­ter, while the army’s over­sight mech­a­nism has had lit­tle to do.

Even within these lim­i­ta­tions, their ex­is­tence has had the ef­fect of be­ing a con­science to those in uni­form and served as a re­minder that South Africa does not want to re­turn to be­ing a se­cu­rity state.

So it was pleas­ing to see the po­lice be­ing dealt with harshly when they united be­hind na­tional com­mis­sioner Riah Phiyega. Stand­ing in de­fi­ance of the pres­i­dent, the po­lice brass is­sued a state­ment in sup­port of their boss, who is due to face a fit­ness-to-hold-of­fice in­quiry.

Say­ing they were “con­cerned about the pre­vail­ing un­fair and largely neg­a­tive at­ti­tude” to­wards her, they de­clared “full sup­port” and were “fully be­hind” Phiyega. This week they were forced to back off dur­ing a dress­ing-down by MPs. With tails be­tween their legs, their North­ern Cape po­lice boss, Janet Bas­son, grov­elled and said: “I apol­o­gise to the com­mit­tee. I apol­o­gise to the pres­i­dent of the coun­try and I com­mit this will never hap­pen again.”

It was a small but note­wor­thy de­vel­op­ment. It may have been made easy by the fact that Phiyega is al­ready toast and will soon no longer be able to cover her hair­line with a po­lice cap.

But it sent a strong mes­sage to the guys with guns that it is civil­ians and not them who are in charge of the coun­try. This was an im­por­tant state­ment and one which should not be a one-off.

It should em­bolden so­ci­ety to push back against the dan­ger­ous en­croach­ment of the se­cu­rity sec­tor into the ev­ery­day lives of South Africans.

It’s a hard thing to ac­cept. Okay, I am a muppet, but the DA part is all balls

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