New chief must be cred­i­ble for po­lice to rise from the ashes

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES - CRAIG DODDS

“WHAT are you go­ing to do, shoot us?” It was hard to tell, from the de­lib­er­ately blank ex­pres­sions on their faces, what ef­fect th­ese words had on the row of riot po­lice.

They were fac­ing a throng of strik­ing par­lia­men­tary work­ers try­ing to join the main body of their col­leagues who had just braved a bar­rage of stun and smoke grenades and stood firm.

So the ques­tion was not en­tirely rhetor­i­cal. Just what would the po­lice do if their in­struc­tion to dis­perse con­tin­ued to be ig­nored?

For­tu­nately, the an­swer never came. The politi­cians, in the form of ANC deputy chief whip Doris Dlakude, DA leader Mmusi Maimane, and United Demo­cratic Move­ment chief whip Nqabay­omzi Kwankwa, bro­kered an agree­ment al­low­ing the work­ers to stay, as long as there were no more dis­rup­tions of par­lia­men­tary busi­ness.

Mean­while, in a meet­ing of the po­lice over­sight com­mit­tee the work­ers had brought to a pre­ma­ture halt, the ab­scess of Na­tional Com­mis­sioner Riah Phiyega’s lead­er­ship of the SAPS had be­gun to be lanced.

Hav­ing pored over the tran­scripts of a meet­ing of the po­lice top brass at which the gen­er­als dis­cussed the im­pli­ca­tions of the Far­lam Com­mis­sion of In­quiry re­port into the Marikana mas­sacre, the com­mit­tee agreed that press state­ments is­sued in sup­port of Phiyega, as Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma con­sid­ered whether or not to sub­ject her to a dis­ci­plinary board of in­quiry, had been in­tended to put pub­lic pres­sure on him to leave her alone.

A fur­ther state­ment – fol­low­ing a meet­ing of the com­mit­tee at which the gen­er­als were in­structed to apol­o­gise and re­frain from such ven­tures into po­lit­i­cal ter­ri­tory again – was deemed to have com­pounded the sin.

The com­mit­tee, when it was able to re­con­vene in the af­ter­noon, adopted a re­port rec­om­mend­ing Phiyega face fur­ther dis­ci­plinary steps and that the gen­er­als who had stood by her should also face the mu­sic.

Phiyega’s fall from grace was so com­plete by this stage it seemed un­likely any­one would bother to de­liver an­other kick, but Po­lice Min­is­ter Nathi Nh­leko added fuel to the fire, un­veil­ing the out­come of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­le­ga­tions of labour prac­tice and other abuses by Phiyega, which found she had com­mit­ted fraud, mis­con­duct and per­jury and should face dis­ci­plinary mea­sures.

Among the ac­tions she will have to an­swer for are the tip­ping off of Western Cape provin­cial com­mis­sioner Arno Lamoer about a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into him, ly­ing in court about the institution of charges against crime in­tel­li­gence boss Richard Md­luli and forc­ing a side­lined gen­eral to sign a back­dated per­for­mance agree­ment that scored him as hav­ing per­formed well when, in fact, he had been made to stay home for a year.

KwaZulu-Na­tal provin­cial com­mis­sioner Mma­mon­nye Ngob­eni will have to an­swer for sus­pend­ing the prov­ince’s Hawks boss, Jo­han Booy­sen, on charges of fraud af­ter the in­ves­ti­ga­tion vin­di­cated his claims th­ese had been un­fair and rec­om­mended that he be re­in­stated.

This closes yet an­other blighted chap­ter in the re­cent history of the SAPS and ends the term of the third na­tional com­mis­sioner in a row to have failed spec­tac­u­larly.

But it leaves the im­age of the po­lice at an all-time low, with the taint of fraud, cor­rup­tion and un­der­world con­nec­tions cling­ing to the high­est ech­e­lons.

At the same time, the foot sol­diers – by events of the past few weeks – have been thrust into the role of en­forcers of the peace, where pol­i­tics has failed, fight­ing run­ning bat­tles with stu­dents and work­ers on univer­sity cam­puses and in Par­lia­ment.

The roots of dis­con­tent are com­plex and var­ied and don’t nec­es­sar­ily amount to a per­ma­nent rup­ture, but reliance on force to keep a lid on it will only fan the flames.

Trust in the po­lice – in­so­far as there is any left – will be the first ca­su­alty un­less politi­cians start man­ag­ing ten­sions bet­ter.

“Give us a chance,” Dlakude pleaded with the par­lia­men­tary work­ers on Wed­nes­day, “be­fore things get out of hand.”

There is prob­a­bly still time, but not to the ex­tent that seems to lie be­hind cyn­i­cal moves like the pro­cure­ment of pres­i­den­tial jets in a time of des­per­ate need.

Zuma, mean­while, will have to ap­point a cred­i­ble suc­ces­sor to en­sure the in­evitable re­moval of Phiyega and her lieu­tenants doesn’t prove to be a false dawn.

● Michael Weeder is away

CHARGES: Riah Phiyega

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