Ekurhuleni police chief Robert McBride returned to work on Tuesday amid an eruption of bloody xenophobic clashes throughout the province.
”All leave has been cancelled [under the circumstances],” McBride said. ”I’m working.” He would not answer any more questions, explaining: ”I’m really busy at the moment.”
The police chief was seen addressing a large contingent of metro officers at the Ramaphosa informal settlement, outside Reiger Park — the scene of the some of the violence — on Tuesday.
He was not back as chief of police but as an ordinary member of the Ekurhuleni metro police, said Ekurhuleni city manager Patrick Flusk.
A number of Ekurhuleni emergency services, disaster-management and metro police staff have been recalled from leave to handle the crisis.
Flusk emphasised that McBride’s return was only for the duration of the crisis, after which he would be placed back on special leave.
Ekurhuleni mayor Duma Nkosi placed McBride on special leave with full pay in July last year, pending the outcome of his trial on charges of driving under the influence of alcohol, defeating the ends of justice and fraud — arising from an accident on the R511, near Pretoria, in December 2006.
Expressing ”huge surprise” at his return to duty on Tuesday, the Democratic Alliance asked whether McBride was ”untouchable because of his affiliation to the [African National Congress]”.
”As it is, the Ekurhuleni metro police department is the laughing stock of the country. The latest development will only compound the damage that has already been done,” said DA community safety spokesperson Michele Clarke.
”It is an outrage that the ruling party has once again made such an important decision via the back door. What has happened to transparency and accountability in the Ekurhuleni metro?” she asked.
She suspected that McBride’s return had something to do with the looming expiry of his five-year contract with the Ekurhuleni metro municipality.
”People are being attacked left, right and centre, especially in Ekurhuleni,” retorted Flusk, adding: ”I need all my people. All the staff I can get. The first priority … must be to protect these people.”
He knew ”quite a few people” had a problem with his decision, but he ”couldn’t care what people are saying”. He would not take the attitude that ”black lives are cheap” and was mobilising as many resources as he could. ”I have to be focused. My focus is saving people’s lives.”
The Ekurhuleni metro municipality has set up a joint operations team, opened its facilities to those displaced and is caring for 14Ã‚Â 000 people at these facilities.
”I would have thought these were special conditions,” Flusk said. ”[McBride] is not permanently back, he’s back for [these] special circumstances .
”This chap has come in, quite brave and quite strong, and has gone in there to help. I appreciate that leadership,” he added. — Sapa