Nkosinathi Nhleko has promised to do whatever it takes to get the police into better shape for the fight against crime – including changing the law.
Professionalising the police is a top priority for the new police minister, Nkosinathi Nhleko, who announced a whole range of changes to the recruitment of police and a number of legislative and policy reviews that will be introduced over the next financial year to enhance the fight against crime.
Nhleko told Parliament on Monday that the SAPS (South African Police Service) Act would be reviewed in a bid to “align it with the Constitution”.
“As part of the process of professionalisation of the police service, we have approved changes to the recruitment strategy of entry level constables with a view to ensure that only the best-suited candidates are recruited into the SAPS,” said Nhleko.
He said the approach on professionalisation of the police service would contribute to a zero-tolerance towards corruption and nepotism; and deliver the calibre of a police official who will serve the people of this country with dignity and pride.
Nhleko announced that all new recruits would be taken through rigorous testing for their suitability before they started with their formal training.
Further, the recruits would be taken through grooming camps for screening purposes, vetting, written assessments, physical fitness as well as other diagnostic tests on behaviour, patriotism and culture, revealed Nhleko.
He said the changes have been introduced as part of the community based recruitment strategy that is aimed at addressing challenges such as pending and or previous convictions, fraudulent qualifications and to avoid nepotism in the recruitment of officers.
In terms of this strategy, the role of the community in commenting on their suitability will also assist in completing the “360° cycle” of suitability testing.
In July last year, Nhleko’s predecessor, Nathi Mthethwa, told Parliament that about 1 500 police officers had criminal records, with about a fifth of them already convicted criminals at the time they joined the police service.
On Monday, Nhleko said the current members of the police service will be taken through rigorous sessions to understand the police code of conduct. “We are expecting each and every member to acknowledge and understand the contents of the code before signing; in order to make sure that they are accountable,” he added.
A number of legislative and policy reviews will also be introduced in this financial year, including a comprehensive review of the SAPS Act to align it with the Constitution; research and policy into reducing the barriers to the reporting of cases of violence against women and children; serial murders and rapes; a review on how community policing forums and community support forums can assist the police in the stabilisation of areas affected by service delivery protests, research on the assessment of police deployments and how these impact on crime and legislative policy and research into the impact of firearm legislation on crime and the need to investigate areas of legislation that requires strengthening.
Nhleko also revealed that the police will focus on stabilising public protests through the Medium Term Strategic Framework. He said the service delivery protests had stretched the police capacity to maintain order as mandated by the Constitution.
Community protests and violence
Nhleko said there were 13 575 community-related protests that the police responded to and stabilised over the last financial year (April 2013 to March 2014).
“These incidences arose mainly from unrest-related incidents such as labour disputes in the mining, education and transport sectors and dissatisfaction with service delivery by local municipalities,” he said.
Of the 13 575 incidents 11 668 were conducted peacefully and 1 907 turned violent – which led to the arrest of 2 522 individuals, said Nhleko.
“We will continue to attend to these community protests with vigilance as we have done in the past with the sole intention of ensuring that we secure property and life of all South Africans.
“We also appeal to community leaders to exercise responsible leadership that ensures protection of property and human lives.”
DA not impressed
The Democratic Alliance (DA) tore into Nhleko and his speech. The DA’s spokesperson on police, Dianne Kohler Barnard, called on Nhleko to fix “the shambles” he has inherited.
Kohler Barnard said Nhleko has inherited no clear plan on how to tackle the main issue of police brutality but instead inherited a shambles with R150-million in fruitless and wasteful expenditure being just the “tip of the iceberg that threatens to sink the whole ship”.
Nhleko was appointed by President Jacob Zuma as police minister on May 25.
“This minister has inherited an entity which on the books looks effective. But I could take him by the hand to 153 stations without toilets, running water or electricity – or all three; to stations where the rain pours through the roof; or those with few working vehicles, or plenty of vehicles and no driver’s licences; to stations where the police members round up cattle and demand a fee from the local subsistence farmers for their release”.
Kohler Barnard said Nhleko could recover money to renovate a station or two from former national police commissioner Jackie Selebi.
Selebi owes the state R17.4-million in legal fees paid on his behalf during his corruption trial – but it has been reported before that he was struggling financially and the state was not likely to recover the money.
According to treasury regulations, Selebi should have started paying back the money 30 days after he lost his appeal, but it’s been three years since he lost that case and he has not paid the money.