President Jacob Zuma has appointed KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Transport, Community Safety and Liaison Bheki Hamilton Cele as the new national police commissioner.
He will take up his duties on August 2 (Sunday) and replaces former diplomat and Member of Parliament Jackie Selebi who has been on special leave since January last year pending trial on charges of corruption.
Announcing the appointment, Zuma said that he had in his State of the Nation Address last month said that government would intensify the fight against crime and corruption in order to ensure safer and more secure communities.
“We pledged that over the next five years, the criminal justice system would be overhauled and that crime levels would be reduced. The filling of key positions within the South African Police Service is a key factor towards the achievement of this goal,” he said.
Cele has worked in the policing field since 1994, Zuma added. “He was elected as a Member of the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature in 1994, and served as the chairperson of the Safety and Security Portfolio Committee in the provincial legislature. He was later appointed as Chairperson of Chairpersons in the Legislature, a task he executed with great diligence and competence.
“Since his appointment as the MEC for Transport, Community Safety and Liaison, Mr Cele has distinguished himself in a number of areas. These include finding solutions to the taxi conflicts in the province, leading successful anti-crime campaigns, as well as promoting road safety on provincial roads and highways.
“He has also championed rural development, through prioritising road infrastructure development to previously neglected communities,” Zuma said.
“We have no doubt that Mr Cele will lead the SAPS efficiently and effectively. He takes over the leadership of SAPS just as government forges ahead to improve its capacity to fight crime.
“In the next three years the number of police personnel will be significantly increased from at least 180 000 to more than 200 000, with more focus being given to increased visibility and enhancing crime detection.
“Over the next year the number of detectives will increase by 19%, and a programme is already underway to train more than 12 000 police personnel in detective related matters.
As part of the strategy to address organised crime and corruption, the Hawks unit was launched on July 6… The impact of the Hawks is already being felt, Zuma said.
Zuma said among the areas of immediate focus are the cash-in-transit heists. “While the financial losses may have declined, the threat posed to the public, where heavily armed criminals conduct heists in public spaces, requires an energetic intervention.
“The development and implementation of legislation aimed at reducing vulnerabilities within the cash-in-transit industry is being worked on. A Cash Risk Management forum has been set up under the chairpersonship of the South African Reserve Bank. The Ministry of Police will work closely with this forum.
The president added that success of government`s approach to the fight against crime is heavily dependent on establishing partnerships with communities. “The Ministry of Police is in the process of establishing a dedicated unit, which will focus on deepening our interaction with communities, institutions such as Business Against Crime, labour, youth, women, traditional leaders, and faith-based organisations.
“We urge citizens and all sectors to work with the government to strengthen the partnership against crime. In this regard, we urge the public and the business community to work with us to close markets for stolen goods as this fuels crime. To further strengthen this effort the Second Hand Goods Act was promulgated in April 2009.”
The country`s largest Parliamentary opposition party, the Democratic Alliance expressed its disappointment at the appointment, noting that Cele is a career politician, not a career police officer.
“We are greatly concerned that history is repeating itself with Mr. Cele`s appointment,” shadow police minister Dianne Kohler Barnard added that just as former President Thabo Mbeki “appointed a close associate of his from the ANC`s political ranks [Selebi] to head up the Police Service in 1999, now, a decade later, President Zuma has done precisely the same thing.”
Kohler Barnard says a national commissioner should be independent and impartial in decision making, committed to excellence, have the requisite skills set and experience and have a history of ethical conduct.
“Using these measures as a gauge, it is difficult to see how Mr. Cele would be an appropriate appointment,” she says, noting that on the first criterion Cele was during the April elections “accused of waving a firearm at IFP members, and accusing that same party of propagating illegal weapons at a time when political tension was high in KwaZulu-Natal.
“A close Zuma ally, Cele attacked Archbishop Tutu for his comments when charges against Zuma were dropped. He is also an active member of the ANC`s NEC and a former member of MK”, the ANC`s former military wing.
Cele also has no experience of police work, Kohler Barnard added, saying he has instead “chaired various committees” and served as a provincial minister.
On ethical conduct, Kohler Barnard said Cele has been involved in “Blue Lights incidents in the past, and has invoked racism to defend problematic behaviour.
“In May 2007, for instance, Mr. Cele accused a citizen of being a ‘self-made, arrogant, non-accountable individual who purports to be a good citizen and I will dare to argue that he is also a racist.` He made this statement after his VIP units were filmed driving at excessive speeds of 160km/h – apparently because Mr. Cele was late for a meeting.
“It is also of grave concern that Mr. Cele has, in the past, urged police officers to “shoot to kill” – in violation of the principle that use of force must be in proportion to perceived threat.
The DA called on Cele to resign from the ANC`s National Executive Committee with immediate effect. “This move would at least be a signal that Mr. Cele is willing to act as an independent police commissioner, accountable to ordinary South Africans plagued by criminals, and not just Luthuli House well protected from the real world.”
The Independent Democrats welcomed his appointment while the ANC-splinter party, the Congress of the People called Cele`s record in KwaZulu-Natal as “mediocre at best.”
Institute for Security Studies policing expert Johann Burger says Cele is not completely unfamiliar with the police, adding that “very few people realise is that he in 1993 already underwent a police policy training course in England and worked with the London Metropolitan Police so he has some good background that will be very useful to him in his new position.”
Pic: Bheki Cele, centre, with KZN Road Traffic Inspectorate officers