Our national police commissioner, Gen Khehla Sithole, is an optimistic leader if he genuinely believes it is possible, or even feasible, to expect that the thoroughly slug-like police service he leads is capable of being transformed into a butterfly. Yet, this is the analogy he used when trying to soften the blow to public confidence in him and those he leads to perform the very basic functions of preventing and combating crime, so as to keep people safe and secure in a society in which respect for human dignity holds pride of place. An average of 57 murders a day is terrifying, not dignified.

The constitutional aims of promoting the achievement of equality and of enjoying the human rights guaranteed to all in the bill of rights, through proper service delivery, are not going to be achieved if the "same old, same old" approach is going to continue in the hope of some pupae and then butterflies emerging.

The SA Police Service (SAPS) completely lost its way during the Zuma era. That is not surprising. A criminal enterprise at the highest levels of the government cannot succeed if the criminal justice administration is working as it should. The ravages of former president Jacob Zuma’s choices for high office in the SAPS, the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) put paid to any chance of the policing functions of SA being properly performed in constitutionally compliant fashion by dedicated personnel in blue.

One of the mistakes made by Zuma was to appoint an ambitious KwaZulu-Natal politician as his national commissioner of police.

Politicians, especially those with no experience of management of the police service, should be automatically disqualified from managerial positions in the SAPS. Bheki Cele was a disastrous appointment. He only lasted three years of his appointment, including the period under suspension during which judge Jake Moloi’s board of inquiry tested his fitness for office against the findings of the public protector in her Against the Rules and Against the Rules Too reports about the novel way in which he went about procuring rental space for the police headquarters in Pretoria and Durban.

Zuma was careful not to give the Moloi inquiry power of subpoena, so the inwardness of the relationship between property mogul Roux Shabangu and Cele was not fully tested by the late judge. Nevertheless, damning findings of incompetence and dishonesty were made against Cele and it was recommended that "the appropriate authorities" look into charges of corruption against him. These investigations were never made; Riah Phiyega, his successor — who was later branded a liar, fraud and bully — saw to that. Instead of facing charges of corruption, Cele returned to politics and soon emerged as a deputy minister under Zuma.

In the new Ramaphosa administration he has been appointed as a full minister, to take political responsibility for the very police who should be investigating him for his corrupt activities when he was police commissioner.

It is difficult to imagine a more inappropriate person. Not only was the "shoot to kill" ethos born during Cele’s time in the police, but he went about turning the police into a military organisation instead of a service to the people.

The militarisation of the police was noted in the National Development Plan, which is now the policy of most leading political parties, including the ANC. Yet its recommendation that the SAPS be demilitarised has not been acted on at all. No sooner was Phiyega, a deployed cadre of the national democratic revolution with no policing experience, appointed than the killings of striking miners at Marikana occurred.

This disaster led to the appointment of the Farlam commission of inquiry, which also recommended the urgent demilitarisation of the police. This recommendation was accepted by the government, but still no finger has been lifted to turn the SAPS back into a service for the people rather than a force to terrorise, shoot, maim and even kill those who protest in a manner countenanced by the constitution.

Cele is simply symptomatic of the practice of deploying cadres loyal to Zuma and the national democratic revolution to positions of power in the police. 

The choice of Cele as police minister is as k*k-handed and unsuitable as putting the fox in charge of the hen house. The charges that should be investigated against him won’t be, not while he is in charge. That would be tantamount to career suicide on the part of any police personnel who seek to enforce Moloi’s recommendation.

Cele is simply symptomatic of the practice of deploying cadres loyal to Zuma and the national democratic revolution to positions of power in the police. When asked if she was a cadre, Phiyega refused to answer, which is tantamount to an admission. Cadre deployment in any part of the public administration (including state-owned enterprises) is both illegal and unconstitutional.

It is also no way to turn a caterpillar into a butterfly. The cadres owe their appointment to deployment committees at Luthuli House; they owe their loyalty to the revolution, not to the public of SA, whom they are meant to serve.

The conflict of interest so generated accounts for the high levels of corruption in high places and for the near success of the attempt to capture the state made by the Zuma and Gupta families.

An end to cadre deployment and the testing of the competence of all in leadership positions in the police must be the first order of business if the butterfly is to be incubated. Appointments on merit in accordance with the requirements of section 195(1) of the constitution are imperative.

It would be a most welcome change.

The entire criminal justice administration will remain paralysed as long as corruption in high places enjoys impunity, as it did during the Zuma years. The police and the prosecutors are all too compromised to act, which is why nothing has been done, criminally speaking, about Marikana, Nkandla or the removal from office of Mxolisi Nxasana as national director of public prosecutions. It has been left to civil society to highlight these shortcomings.

The cure to corruption in high places is the establishment of an integrity commission under chapter nine of the constitution to prevent, combat, investigate and prosecute grand corruption in SA. This bold move would side-step the dysfunction in the police, Hawks and NPA. It will see those guilty of corruption brought to trial.

It will allow ordinary police officers to get on with their duties without having to look over their shoulders to check that they are pleasing cadre deployment committees, which protect the crooked in high places, not least in the interests of party funding. An integrity commission would have the will and the skill to recover misappropriated state assets and funds.

The draft legislation to create it already exists.

Obviously, replacing Cele with an honest and competent technocrat is the first step towards implementing the National Development Plan and Farlam commission recommendations. An integrity commission would clean up the acknowledged "sins of incumbency" of the ANC, and the criminal justice administration could be put back on an even keel.

In short: fire the minister, stop the cadre infestation of the police, make merit appointments, demilitarise the police and create a specialised integrity commission to clean up the mess left by the Zuptoids. Don’t expect any of this to happen as a consequence of the talkfest Cele has in mind for Boksburg. If the political will to do what is necessary doesn’t currently exist, the voters know what to do.

• Hoffman SC is a director of Accountability Now and author of Confronting the Corrupt.