PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma’s decision to abstain from public discussion on matters of great public importance is reinforcing the view that South Africa has no decisive leadership.
Over the past several weeks, devastating criticisms have been levelled at several of the government’s most senior leaders.
The public protector, Thuli Madonsela, has released her final report on how key leaders wrongly consented to the signing of two dodgy leases to the tune of R1.78-billion for police buildings in Pretoria and Durban.
Her report makes it plain that, between them, the Minister of Public Works, Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde, and police commissioner General Bheki Cele flouted regulations, ignored tender rules and seriously abused the trust placed in them to use public money wisely.
In Mahlangu-Nkabinde’s case, Madonsela specifically directed the president to take action. In Cele’s case, she called on the Minister of Police, Nathi Mthethwa, to act.
Zuma has not only failed to act, but has offered no explanation of how he intends to deal with this matter, showing contempt for Madonsela and for the public.
There are other signs that Zuma is failing to exercise presidential authority.
Three of his ministers have decided to challenge the ruling of the Competition Commission on Walmart in what can only be described as an act of immature political defiance against a government structure.
That a foreign investor can one week be allowed by a regulator appointed and regulated by the government to invest, only to find that the government challenging its own decision the next, is deeply perplexing.
That the Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, is not part of this action suggests that it does not enjoy the support of Zuma’s entire cabinet.
It is worth asking if the absence of leadership has become so grave that Zuma no longer has authority over all his ministers.
Zuma’s strength is his ability to bring together those who disagree. His weakness is that he is unable to take a position which might alienate one or another member of the coalition that brought him to power in Polokwane.
Thus the ANC’s youth leader, Julius Malema, is able to say or do almost anything without consequences.
Left-leaning ministers who see foreign investors as evil imperialists are allowed to go to court to challenge decisions made by government bodies.
And appalling financial decisions such as those made by Cele and Mahlangu-Nkabinde go unpunished.
Zuma had better wake up to the fact that he is putting his weakness on display. He will not survive as leader unless he shows he has the mettle for the job.
@This is a draft leader for the Sunday Times
THE killing of a man linked by police with a service delivery protest in Ficksburg has shocked the nation.
Andries Tatane was shot and beaten to death in full view of an SABC television crew. Video footage of the killing was broadcast on the SABC’s prime time news bulletin.
The incident has drawn widespread condemnation, including a strongly worded statement by the ANC’s Jackson Mthembu.
He said the incident could only be described “as resembling apartheid era police strong arm tactics, showing total disregard for human rights enshrined in the South African Constitution.”
It was a statement which is deserving of close examination.
Mthembu was juxtaposing the actions of the police with the protection of human rights contained in the constitution.
This is a long overdue repudiation of those in government and the police who appear to regard the constitution as an obstacle to effective policing.
This camp has held sway in government’s security cluster under the government of President Jacob Zuma.
One of their first acts was to re-militarise the police service, which they renamed the “police force”.
Ranks were dished out and commissioner Bheki Cele awarded himself the rank of “General” — Muammar Gaddafi was happy to settle for the lower rank of Colonel — and proceeded to stoke up within the police force the notion that they were to use their weapons more freely.
At the time, the move drew strong criticism from the ANC’s Kader Asmal, who wrote a letter to the Sunday Times in which he asked: “Has the Cabinet taken leave of its senses?”
Asmal went on: “I have news for them. If they want to travel along the road where law enforcement is perceived as the enemy of the people, they will have to deal with the Constitution. Under section 205, the police are described as a service (my emphasis) and under subsection (3), they are enjoined to uphold and enforce the law, which would involve strict adherence to the Constitution.”
Asmal was ignored and the bodies began to pile up. Some of these bodies were those of “suspected criminals” shot dead at road blocks and the public committed the cardinal mistake of shrugging and looking the other way.
What the SABC’s broadcast did was remind this country of the terrible consequences of a police force which believes itself to be a law unto itself.
Mthembu’s statement went on to criticise the SABC for broadcasting the images, which was a pity.
Tatane’s tragic death has woken this nation up to the extent to which the values of the new South Africa have been eroded by careless policy making.
It is time to return to the values that make us great.
THERE is no other way to characterise this week’s arrest of Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika as anything other than a blatant attempt to intimidate him and this newspaper.
There are several aspects to this arrest which remain disturbing.
The first is that it involved eight or more policemen, their police sirens blazing at our premises in Rosebank, Johannesburg. Fewer policemen have been called on to arrest of violent thugs.
The second is that police refused, until many hours had passed, to allow him access to his legal representative or to inform his lawyer of where he was being held.
The third is the fact that even when three prosectors in Mpumalanga declined to take the case forward because of the flimsiness of the docket, the police refused to release him.
The fourth is that the state argued before a High Court in Pretoria that he should remain in jail because it was only “a few hours” until he was due to appear in court. That representatives of a democratic government could conjure up such a defence was very disappointing.
The fifth was that, despite their many efforts to keep our reporter in jail, the state did not oppose bail the following morning.
The above five concerns are serious enough but they are compounded by acts of omission.
The silence on this flagrant abuse of power from Pretoria was deafening, suggesting that this sort of thuggish behaviour enjoys the support of those at the highest level of government.
This was compounded by the silence of civil society with the notable exception of media institutions who rallied strongly behind the need for proper legal processes to be followed.
It is the fashion amongst the political classes to look at social networks such as twitter and facebook as little more than titillation.
But the good citizens who use these networks showed far more spine and ethical clarity than those you would expect to rise to the defence of freedom.
A notable exception to this was the leader of the Democratic Alliance, Helen Zille, who produced a cogent and principled critique of the state’s plans to erode media freedom.
Who could have imagined that even as Zille rose to defend freedom the likes of Jeremy Cronin would pen apologies for its reduction?
Who would have imagined that lawyers would be at the Pretoria High Court at night seeking an urgent interdict to have a journalist released while lawyers acting for the democratic state sought to keep him in jail?
The time has come for all who value this freedom to speak out against those who value power.
POLICE Commissioner Bheki Cele’s request to MPs that he be called “General Cele” from now on is faintly embarrassing.
It is never edifying to see a grown man openly cherishing tin-pot honorifics as if these will somehow improve his status.
But it is more than embarrassing — it is a symptom of the rolling back of over a decade of attempts to transform the police from a para-military force into a proper investigative outfit with professional standards.
Democratic South Africa inherited a sick police “force” that had been honed for decades into a machine of political oppression.
There were those within its ranks who performed heroic acts of crime fighting, but there could be no mistaking the intention of the apartheid state.
It wanted to criminalise the struggle against apartheid and it wanted the police to be the instrument of this agenda.
The result was that the police were loathed by communities who were on the receiving end of their harsh treatment.
There were specialised units such as the riot police and the security police who committed awful atrocities in the name of their political masters.
It has taken sixteen years of democracy for the police to begin to lose this image and for communities to embrace policemen as crime-fighting agents.
The ruling party’s decision to allow Cele to throw this progress out the window in favour of a return to the militarisation of the police will once more undermine this trust.
Military titles are there for one purpose only — to send a message that the police intend to act as a military force, one that uses violence rather than proper police work to accomplish its ends. Shame on you, Field Marshall Cele.
Yesterday I travelled to Luthuli House to interview Julius Malema with the multimedia team. (see the full interview on the Political Notebook show a little later on this morning)
Here’s the interview as published in The Times today:
Julius Malema emerges from his office on the seventh floor of the ANC’s Luthuli House in downtown Johannesburg. Outside a Highveld thunderstorm is brewing.
In the passage stands a line of people waiting for appointments.
He shakes hands with the first group and asks: “Where are you from?”
A man answers: “Delmas.”
Malema moves down the line asking the same question. He is answered with a succession of small towns dotted across the rural landscape.
In his office, Malema is determined to set the record straight. Read More…
THIS just in: Deputy Police Minister, Fikile Mbalula says innocent lives will be lost as police fight crime with lethal force and that’s just one of those things …
His exact words, as quoted on Sapa: “In the course of any duty the innocent will be victimised. In this particular situation where you are caught in combat with criminals, innocent people are going to die not deliberately but in the exchange of fire. They are going to be caught on the wrong side, not deliberately but unavoidably.”
More: “We cannot say to the police, retreat. We cannot say to South Africans, despair. Our job is to give people hope.”
And then that statement again: “Yes. Shoot the bastards. Hard-nut to crack, incorrigible bastards.”
From the Sapa story:
Mbalula said the promised amendments to section 49 of the Criminal Procedure Act would be tabled in Parliament next year, but would not amount to an overhaul of the act.
In essence, lawmakers would change the act “in terms of emphasis on the word ’necessary’” to remove ambiguity in the law, the deputy minister said. He gave no further details.
Section 49 states that if someone suspected to have committed a serious or violent crime resists arrest, the police may “use such force as may in the circumstances be reasonably necessary to overcome the resistance or prevent the person concerned from fleeing”.
A POLITICAL storm has erupted over remarks made by former government minister, Kader Asmal.
On Monday, Asmal was highly critical of the idea of militarising the police service. The point he was making was that it was the re-militarisation of a service which the ANC had spent years demilitarising.
He focussed his assault on the person of Deputy Police Minister Fikile Mbalula whom he accused of “low-level political decision-making”.
“The new administration is referring to the militarisation of the police. I have this former head of the youth league [Mbalula] who aspires to be secretary general of the ANC, ha, really, I hope I won’t be alive,” he said.
“He said we must militarise the police. We spent days and days in 1991 to get away from the idea of a militarised police force. [It's] extraordinary.
“This is a kind of craziness all of us have to take into account. It is part of that low-level political decision-making without reference to the Cabinet.”
Asmal went on to point to the absurdity of military ranks.
“If a station commander is made general, what is going to happen to the national commissioner of police? He is going to be ‘generalisimo’ or ‘il duce’ or Field Marshall. According to the Constitution, the president appoints the national commissioner of the police. You have to amend the Constitution and become the laughing stock of the world just to change a name.”
The response has been to demonise and dismiss Asmal. But where is the reasoned response to his criticism of re-militarising the police service?
All this will achieve is a retreat to violent methods instead of the proper criminal investigation required to put away criminals.
SOUTH Africa has just learned about the high cost of ill-considered populism the hard way.
Olga Kekana, an innocent young woman who was out partying has been shot dead by police who opened fire on a car they mistook for a hijacked vehicle.
Why did they do so?
The answer is simple: A very strong message has been sent to policemen on the street that they will be politically protected if they shoot and kill dangerous criminals.
Then deputy Safety and Security Minister, Susan Shabangu, put it this way: “You must kill the bastards if they threaten you or the community. You must not worry about the regulations. That is my responsibility. Your responsibility is to serve and protect.”
This is a strong message to the police that they can shoot first and ask questions later.
These sorts of comments have since been repeated by other government leaders, including the Commissioner of Police, Bheki Cele and President Jacob Zuma himself.
Zuma has been at pains to stress that he does not want “trigger happy” police.
But he did not mince his words when he told a gathering of police station commanders that it was open season on armed criminals.
The tragic shooting at Mabopane has sobered the politicians up and they are now trying to spin-doctor their way out this mess.
They should think long and hard about their failure to provide proper leadership and the consequences of throwing fuel on the populist fire.
There is mounting evidence that the police are setting ambushes and blowing away people they believe to be criminals as if they have been given the power over life and death. Crime is awful and we need tough action. We don’t need more crime committed by the police.