Mbalula out to ‘squeeze’ criminals
When Fikile Mbalula was appointed police minister two weeks ago after a Cabinet reshuffle, the presidency said it was because crime, which continues to be worryingly high, needed to be tackled by a young person with lots of energy.
Mbalula has heapfuls – he earned the nickname Mr Razzmatazz for being active everywhere. And, as a former president of the ANC Youth League, he is not wanting when it comes to bombast. But will these be enough to ward off the criminals? He has already warned that the police will not fold their arms when armed criminals fire shots at them.
In fact, Mbalula has said he will ensure that legislation curtailing the use of guns by police when dealing with armed criminals is amended to address the violent nature of crime in South Africa.
Speaking to City Press on the sidelines of a media briefing, in which he announced the appointment of acting Hawks head Yolisa Matakata, Mbalula said criminals would be squeezed.
“We have to isolate criminals. We need to squeeze the space for criminals and make them unsettled in what they do,” he said.
“As we speak, they are on holiday and they think they can do as they wish at any given time, terrorise people, brandish big firearms and put us as citizens, including the police, in a corner.”
The outspoken Mbalula, who previously headed the sports ministry, said the transition from sports to the police service would be a smooth one.
Mbalula is not new to the police cluster, having served as deputy police minister in 2009, along with the then minister, Nathi Mthethwa.
On one occasion as deputy, Mbalula told members of Parliament that “the time to hug, kiss and massage crime has lapsed; a new cadre police officer has arrived”.
This week, he remained resolute, saying: “Criminals have never respected the police. Police officers need to be empowered to protect themselves in terms of meeting fire with fire.”
Mbalula’s plan of action includes boosting police morale, overseeing the professionalisation and demilitarisation of the police service, and ensuring that police are valued for the work that they do and are legally protected in the execution of their mandate.
Mbalula said part of his plan was to have a single policing service and do away with the metropolitan service because the latter was accountable to no one.
“We have the metro police, who are megaindependent ... and not accountable to anybody.
“So, we need single policing – everyone who is doing police work must be accountable to the command and control of the police. That is important,” he said.
Unlike his predecessor Nathi Nhleko, who spent considerable amounts of money on legal fees, Mbalula said his aim was to spend more on policing than fighting unwinnable battles.
Mbalula cited the withdrawal of an appeal against the dismissal of Hawks head Mthandazo Ntlemeza as one example.
Mbalula inherits a troubled police service, which has
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He said once suspended commissioner Riah Phiyega’s contract expired in June, the hunt for a permanent head would begin as this would help to bring stability to the organisation.
With the leadership of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) and the police service seemingly at loggerheads, Mbalula will have to play a mediating role.
He has already undertaken to do so and bring an end to the back-and-forth battles that have seen acting police commissioner Kgomotso Phahlane approach the court, seeking to prevent the police watchdog from conducting a probe into his wealth.
The watchdog is investigating a string of allegations against Phahlane, including one that he received kickbacks while he headed the police’s forensic services.
City Press has learnt that Ipid wrote to President Jacob Zuma and then police minister Nhleko, requesting to have Phahlane suspended.
Mbalula said stability and proper cooperation between the two institutions were vital in the fight against crime.
“I will be having a briefing with [Ipid head Robert] McBride and he will brief me about all the cases, including those of the senior management of police,” he said.
Mbalula said violent crime – including cash-in-transit heists, which appear to be picking up after having fallen dramatically in the past three years – was very concerning.
“We need to go back to basics ... we need to check what worked then and how we can continue now.”
TOUGH TALK Police Minister Fikile Mbalula, flanked by acting police commissioner Kgomotso Phahlane