The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) supports the grievances raised by its affiliate, the South African Policing Union (SAPU). The critical issue raised by SAPU refers to the interference by Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, on how the South African Police Service (SAPS) is run.

The interferences have operational consequences for SAPS, especially for the efficiency and effectiveness of the services provided by SAPS.

The tangible consequences of such interferences have affected even the implementation of collective agreements in the Safety Security Sectoral Collective Bargaining Council (SSSCBC). Currently the key issue relating to the restructuring of vacancies in SAPS, is being compromised because of the interference of Bheki Cele in Human Resource administration, which is out of his jurisdiction.

The question arises: is the minister’s interference motivated by having the best interest of the police department at heart, or his own political agenda?

Personal ambition, fame and ego

There seems to be a mixture of a political agenda and a pursuit for personal fame.

Bheki Cele can make pronouncements that catapult him to fame as a committed minister, but such pronouncements remains hollow if the police department does not have the capacity to carry them out.

The provincial police departments that have their important ranks unfilled and vacant, are bound to lack in ensuring protection of citizens, crime combating and professional execution of other responsibilities of the police. For instance, the filling of vacant posts in the police service is crucial and urgent if the police must improve their efficiency in providing services to the public.

Instead, Bheki Cele goes around executing arrests of citizens at beaches for flouting Covid-19 regulations. He is said to make pronouncements about arresting the EFF members who would/may not adhere to Covid-19 rules as per Malema’s defiant instruction to EFF members in preparation for local elections. These matters are within the jurisdiction of the National Commissioner of Police to make pronouncements, not Bheki Cele.

The police will be expected to stretch their limited resources, human and equipment, to arrest those defaulting Covid-19 rules in line with Bheki’s self serving ambitions and ego, instead of concentrating such resources on arresting real criminal syndicates. The Minister must leave the operational running of the police services to the rightful individual, National Police Commissioner(NPC), and his team.

Political agenda

Even more concerning, is his interference for political motives. The police services, because of their position as a strategic apparatus of the state, have unfortunately been targeted by politicians from one regime after the other for their own political agendas.

It is because of this targeting, that many ministers have never finished their terms of office since the start of the democratic dispensation. Mostly, it is because they do not serve this or that faction of the regime.

The case of NASREC and “intelligence grabbers” are a perfect revelation of how the political factions may capture or want to capture the police leadership especially through appointments for their own political ends. The attempted appointment of a Provincial Commissioner in Northern Cape, and Cele’s interference may be one of those attempts to control the police department for political ends.

Perhaps, his interest and interference in General Jacobs’s case may be guided by this political motive to have a controlling leverage in Crime Intelligence division of SAPS.

Sheer undermining of SAPS commissioner

If the Minister’s interference was an interest in the efficient running of the police department and the building of capacity to deliver its service, he would at least be cognisant of the following:

  • That undermining the police commissioner has no benefit for the running of the police department. It belittles the police force in the face of criminals, and belittles the leadership of the police force in front of the various subordinate ranks of the police force,
  • He should be working with the National Police Commissioner (NPC) to fend off political interference in various province. That the premier of Northern Cape wanted to appoint a Provincial Police Commissioner, which is the jurisdiction of the National Police Commissioner, attest to how the NPC has been undermined with the aid of Bheki Cele.
  • The Minister should work in support and in tandem with the NPC to ensure that provinces which do not have police commissioners, fill such important posts. The Provincial Police Commissioners are important positions in the effective operation of Police departments in each provinces, without which, Provincial police departments are prone to bungling.
  • He should be pushing, like Minister Angie Motshekga in Basic Education, for the prioritization of the police force in the vaccine rollout. He is not doing that, instead, is too much vested in the operational matters of SAPS.

The report by a panel of experts on policing and crowd management of SAPS recommended that “the authority of the minister to issue directions should not affect the operational independence of the SAPS.” Bheki Cele is clearly acting against the spirit of these recommendations.

SAFTU supports SAPU’s letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa. President Ramaphosa must keep the minister in check, especially because in line with the recommendations made by the panel of experts, “the authority of the minister must be subject to principles of accountability and accountability.” For the police to have an efficient running of their department, such undue interference must be nipped.

The department cannot be run on the prerogatives of the minister, especially because there are collective agreements that it makes with labour.

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