Is this our one good man?
An alarming roll call of his predecessors as SA’s top cop have left under a cloud of corruption or just plain incompetence. South Africans are hoping that Khehla John Sitole, the general with the soft voice and the Desmond Tutu chuckle, is the career offi
I felt drawn to the police, to serve and to help my fellow South Africans. My patriotism drew me
● Who scares you most: your wife or the police minister?
“That’s an easy one. It would have to, without doubt, be my wife. I have a very healthy respect for her. It’s something you learn after 27 years of marriage.”
So far, so good. 54-year-old General Khehla John Sitole clearly has the right priorities when it comes to law and order.
Family is all-important to the cop, who laughs frequently throughout our interview.
“I make sure that I spend time with my family every day and laugh. Laughter is the best thing. It stimulates me and puts me in a good mood when I have to tackle important work projects.”
Tasked with ensuring the safety and security of 50 million South Africans, the newly appointed national police commissioner is under no illusion about the mammoth job that lies ahead.
The general, whose only fear in life is failing the South African public (and annoying his wife), believes the tests God has put him through during his 32-year police career have brought him to this point.
The post of national police commissioner has been tainted by scandal or incompetence ever since Jackie Selebi took the job in 2000.
Selebi was jailed for taking bribes from Glenn Agliotti, and the tenures of most of his predecessors — Bheki Cele, Riah Phiyega and Kgomotso Phahlane — also ended badly.
We’ve only just welcomed 2018, and the police service has been hit by scandal yet again, in the form of Morris “Captain KGB” Tshabalala, a covert crime intelligence agent.
Tshabalala, despite a criminal conviction for armed robbery in 1996, was employed by the police and remained employed even when he was finally imprisoned in 2013.
When he was arrested last month on charges of fraud and theft, it was revealed that he was still employed by the police. Tshabalala has now been fired for good. It’s crises like this that Sitole will have to deal with — and the crime intelligence division, where Tshabalala was employed, is going to be one of his biggest headaches. But Sitole believes he’s up to cleaning out the rot wherever it may be.
“Why should I be afraid? I am here to ensure that everyone in our beloved land can live free of fear in a safe and secure environment.”
The general, who was appointed in November, knows what is at stake should he fail to turn the police service around. “Failure is not an option,” he says.
“It was in matric that I began to realise that I had a calling to the police. I could see the country’s political climate was changing and I felt drawn to the police, to serve and to help my fellow South Africans.
“My teachers and elders, because of my marks, always wanted me to go into the medical field and become a doctor, but my patriotism drew me to the police.”
Sitole, who hails from Standerton in Mpumalanga, until recently oversaw the SAPS protection and security section.
He describes himself as a simple man who gains respect by showing it to others.
Sitole believes one of his biggest tasks in sorting out the police once and for all is to place the service on a proper “professional” basis. To do that he needs everyone, including all his management team, on the same page.
“We need to take the service to a position where it becomes world-class and is respected internationally.
“We have to start now. We have to identify and nurture leadership throughout the ranks to ensure that in the years to come the police are capable of defeating crime and protecting our citizens,” he says.
Sitole has introduced a programme to inculcate a sense of patriotism in the service, in the belief that love for their country and its people will inspire officers to do the best they can.
He says South Africa urgently needs top-quality police officers because criminals are becoming more sophisticated.
“It is what keeps me awake at night . . . Currently we are chasing crime, and are not fighting the criminal modus operandi, which sees them staying ahead of us. We have to fight crime by making sure the criminals run out of ideas,” he says.
“One of the biggest challenges is cybercrime. Cyber technology is used in almost every facet of crime.”
I love this job, policing and South Africa. I would have taken this position even if I was not paid a salary
Sitole recently called for a “drastic review” of the police service’s strategies and capabilities in fighting cybercrime.
“There are a lot of technological requirements which we have to fulfil if we are to ensure that we are to get ahead of criminals.”
Police discipline is another problem. “From the first day of training, police need to understand the strict laws that govern policing. I want to ensure that we produce highly skilled and motivated officers, and get to a place where discipline does not have to be forced.”
This will mean having proper vetting schemes in place, aimed particularly at weeding out corruption.
Sitole believes rewarding police officers adequately is an important part of improving the service.
“Not everyone needs a rank, but everyone needs a better salary.
“I have an obligation to keep experience where it belongs . . . on the ground. You do not want a situation where you take away people, especially those who are highly experienced, through promotion.
“You want to keep these experienced people where they are needed most, close to the communities which they serve.
“To do so we have to improve salaries so that they do not drop below the standard of living.”
Then there’s poor crime intelligence.
“You cannot address crime if your very foundation for detecting crime is in a state of disrepair.
“Our communities are vital to our fight against crime. The service has to become a community-centred organisation which works with, and which recognises and services, our communities.”
On weekends South Africa’s top cop can often be found in overalls up a ladder doing household DIY projects, or pottering in his garden.
In his younger days he played soccer in the Zambuk league.
What makes Sitole get out of bed and go to work every day?
“I love this job, policing and South Africa. Knowing that today we will come up with new strategies to secure South Africa and beat crime is what drives me.
“I would have taken this position even if I was not paid a salary.”
BRASS TACKS General Khehla John Sitole says inculcating discipline and professionalism in the police are among his priorities as national commissioner.
The general says he makes sure that he spends time with his wife and children every day and has a laugh with them.