Fikile Mbalula. Picture: SOWETAN
Fikile Mbalula. Picture: SOWETAN

Police Minister Fikile Mbalula has never been shy about publicity. Indeed, at many of his frequent media conferences, it is difficult to get him to stop speaking.

For this reason, the news that he has ordered a massive shake-up of the crime intelligence division of the South African Police Service (SAPS) and has done so in secret, has raised questions about his motivation.

Crime intelligence has been a mess for more than a decade since the suspension on serious charges including murder of Richard Mdluli as its head. He remains suspended on full pay and has not yet had his day in court. The division as a whole remains under a cloud of allegations that its R700m budget for covert operations has often been used for corrupt activities or the illegal surveillance of the government’s opponents.

While the division may be in need of serious reorganisation, arguably Mbalula’s most important tasks are finding a new permanent national commissioner and a new permanent head of crime intelligence. For years now, there have been a whole host of appointments in acting capacities that do not allow for effective management of the SAPS.

Make no mistake, the SAPS is a difficult beast to govern.

Consider that it has about 190,000 employees at thousands of stations all over the country. It has a budget of more than R80bn annually and has a client base of more than 55-million people (the population of SA).

The skills needed in the organisation range from highly trained scientists to the ordinary bobby on the beat. The person who manages this monster will need to not only have exceptional skills themselves, but also the policing experience to command the respect and loyalty of the staff.

Some of the indicators for the police are not good. For instance, the number of people killed by the police or dying while in police custody has spiked. There has also been an increase in reports of torture and serious assaults at the hands of the police.

Indeed, the bill last year for civil claims against the police was a staggering R14bn and each year, the SAPS budget has a contingent liability of billions for cases that it could lose.

But, experts insist, it is not all doom and gloom and there are centres of excellence in the thousands of police stations across the country.


It is the many acting appointments in the SAPS that is hugely problematic. There is an acting national commissioner, Lesetja Mothiba, an acting head of crime intelligence, King Ngcobo, and an acting head at the Directorate for Priority Crimes Investigation (the Hawks), Yolisa Matakata.

The problem is an acting head has little real authority because they don’t know if they will be in the job tomorrow, and some of their colleagues also want the top job.

The last three permanent national commissioners have been disasters — all three left with scandals in their wake. Jackie Selebi was found guilty of corruption and sentenced to 15 years in prison, Bheki Cele left after he was involved in the dodgy R500m lease of a property for police headquarters and Riah Phiyega was suspended for having committed perjury at the Marikana commission of inquiry. They were political appointments.

There was much hope when Khomotso Phahlane was appointed acting national commissioner because he was a career cop, having headed up the forensics division. But he, too, has been replaced after a scandal over his R8m house and fleet of luxury cars.

Finding competent people to fill these posts is undoubtedly Mbalula’s most important task. The sooner competent, effective leaders are given the jobs, the better for the SAPS and the country. The minister should find some time in his busy Twitter schedule to get this right.

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