'No reason to be humane'

Sello S Alcock interviews newly appointed Safety and Security Minister Nathi Mthetwa.

Since your appointment was announced, you have come across as hard-hitting on the rights extended to criminals or accused persons in this country. How do you justify that in South Africa’s human rights culture, with a Bill of Rights protecting all, including accused persons?
I said it then and I am saying it now that even within the legislative regime, if we are called to do something extraordinary we will, but we will do everything within the Constitution.

There is nothing constitutional when we have criminals killing people.
You can’t come and put a Constitution to their faces. You have to deal with them with excessive force, that is the point. These people kill without due regard for law-abiding citizens, so they have to reap what they sow.

The levels of crime in South Africa are high and there are people who make those levels high. There is absolutely no reason you would want to be humane to those people.

You spoke about reviewing legislation that gives criminals human rights. Again, how do you hope to marry this with our human rights culture, in which, for example, you cannot detain anybody for longer than 48 hours?
You see, there is a difference between a criminal and a suspect.

You treat suspects accordingly and you read them their rights. You follow all processes [but] you have people [criminals] who go out of their way and use excessive force.

What we are saying is that we are freeing the police service—that they do not have to read the Constitution to those [criminals].

You seem to be repeating the statement that if you or the community are in danger, shoot and shoot to kill if necessary.
I am saying in our experience people involved in cash-in-transit heists kill the guard[s] and take the money. We need to be more organised and answer fire with fire.

It is difficult to reconcile what you are saying with the fact that a unit specifically tasked with fighting organised crime is being closed down as we speak.

But it has never fought crime. It was given that task, in fact it was not only [given the task of] organised crime, it was [given the task of dealing with] transnational, complex and complicated crimes.

They have never done that, they have never nipped in the bud the strategies of criminals who plan cash-in-transit heists.

It was only the police service. They are the ones who have broken the back of these criminals through crime intelligence and special forces.

[The Scorpions] have not lived up to what they were supposed to do. The new unit, which is going to be commanded here [within the South African Police Service], is going to heighten our capacity to deal with organised crime.

You are on record as saying that one of the things you need to do immediately is appoint a permanent national police commissioner. How are you going to deal with the fact that [National Police Commissioner] Jackie Selebi’s contract was recently extended? Is a golden handshake in the offing?

No, that is a matter of detail. The most important thing is the principle that for us to execute our jobs, there are things we think must be done.

Now it would be folly for us to get into details but it is important to indicate that [replacing Jackie Selebi] is the strategic direction we are taking as far as this is concerned.

So Selebi is gone?
All I am saying is that this [appointment] is a need and it [is] not only about the national commissioner—there is also [the need to appoint] a head of crime intelligence.

You have mentioned your concerns regarding the morale of the police force. It is on record that the manner in which the police restructuring was executed contributed negatively to the morale. It has also been suggested that you are downsizing the force. Is this true?
As far as the restructuring is concerned we are still going to get a full briefing. Anything that affects members negatively as far their morale is concerned we will take very seriously.

Additional reporting by Mandy Rossouw

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