SA needs a chief who won't cop out
ONE of the few "innovations" Jacob Zuma introduced after he became president was the militarisation of the police.
It was his passion. Even before his election he had suggested that the then Department of Safety and Security be renamed department of "law and order".
Presumably, the crude irony about the apartheid-era "law and order" department that authorised the killing of his comrades was not lost on the president-designate.
He meant well. He was trying to show his commitment to fighting crime. On taking over the reins as president, Zuma appointed Bheki Cele, a high-ranking politician from KwaZulu-Natal, as police commissioner.
Cele wore the double title "commissioner/general" which was part of Zuma's militarisation efforts. That title signifies the confusion: Zuma's administration was not quite sure whether or not to militarise the police.
And of course, Cele did extremely well in his war rhetoric against criminals and he strongly believes it helped to bring down some categories of crimes. To his credit, he waged a fight against obesity in the police, though he seems to have completely lost this one.
But reduction in some types of crimes is partly why he feels aggrieved about his dismissal. Responding to public protector Thuli Madonsela's investigation and subsequently the board of inquiry that recommended his dismissal following the police lease deal scandal, Cele said he had done no wrong.
He claimed to have signed the dodgy lease deals worth more than a billion rands after he had been advised by officials responsible for procurement in his department and the Department of Public Works.
Now he has launched a court challenge against his dismissal by Zuma, describing it as "irrational" and "arbitrary".
In his original response to findings by Judge Jake Moloi, who chaired the inquiry, Cele argued that he had not been found wanting on his performance - fighting crime.
He seems to be making sense. But not quite. This brings me to the issue of how the Police Department (Zuma later settled for this name) is structured.
Minister Nathi Mthethwa is the political head of the department. He is responsible for policy matters. He sets norms, standards and targets in consultation with the cabinet. He accounts to parliament.
Then there is an unknown entity called secretariat of police. It is responsible for the civilian oversight of the police. It is headed by the unknown Jenni Irish-Qhobosheane and serves as a "technical adviser" to Mthethwa. It reports to parliament.
Like Cele before he was fired, the new police commissioner, General Riah Phiyega, is the "accounting officer". In terms of the Public Finance Management Act, she is responsible for authorising and accounting for all expenses incurred by the police - the rules Cele was found guilty of breaching. She too reports to parliament.
In the police general, you have someone whose job combines administrative and crime-fighting duties. This is where the crime-fighting flight experiences fatal technical glitches.
As a politician Mthethwa does not require police experience. He does not need to know how to handle an R5.
As head of civilian oversight, Irish-Qhobosheane does not need to have experience in controlling rowdy crowds. A legal background would be sufficient.
But the requirements should be different when it comes to the person who is directly in charge of commanding the deployment of the men and women in blue.
How possible is it then that one can fight crime when the top echelons of the police - from the minister to the general - are all civilians?
The issue is whether the way the Police Department is structured is well suited to deal with the kinds of crime that citizens experience on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, it is not. As an accounting officer Phiyega must, among other things, watch out for whether tenders to buy bread, cool drinks and police accommodation are dished out in accordance with the law.
Why must a crime-fighting general be responsible for all of these? The current system effectively equates a police general to a director-general of any other civilian department.
The current system makes it perfectly legitimate - albeit illogical - for the president to appoint a civilian to head the police, bypassing cops who have been in the service for years.
I'm not talking about apartheid-era police. I'm referring to those who joined the police service post-1994, who know no other order other than the constitutional democratic order.
The South African Police Act must be changed. The existence of the unknown civilian unit suggests that the rest of the police force is obviously not civilian in character.
It may not be as fully fledged a military machine as the South African Defence Force is, but inherent in that blue uniform is the military aura that comes with fighting criminals.
Police get involved in all sorts of wars daily in their fight against crime. They need a commander, someone who rose through the ranks, commanding respect for his or her daring, fearless and yet lawful crime-fighting tactics.
It must be someone junior cops are happy to emulate. If the legis-lation governing the appointment of the police commissioner made specific provisions for this, there would have been no need for the president to appoint a business administrator to steer a crime-fighting flight.
He would not be in a position where he stands accused by a civilian like Cele of being irrational.
As commander-in-chief of all the armed forces, Zuma would be respected by those in uniform who know better how command structures and salute procedures work.