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

Sunday Times - - News | Table Talk - By GRAEME HOSKEN

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.”

Pic­tures: Moeletsi Mabe

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.

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