TAKE2: Will Cele's tough talk translate into action?

South Africans can expect more of the same skop, skiet en donder violent discourse on the policing front with the appointment, effective from August 2, of Bheki Cele as the new police national commissioner.

The appointment marks a continuation of the tough talk on policing and crime as first initiated by President Jacob Zuma when he said South African criminal laws are too lenient on suspects of crime and that they needed to “bite”.

Minister Nathi Mthetwa then followed the president by urging cops not to read criminals a “human-rights charter” but to instead “fight fire with fire”.

His deputy Fikile Mbalula also entered the fray and, in colourful language, averred about criminals soiling themselves, supposedly from fear of police action.

Cele, who at the announcement of his appointment seemed to take pride as being a tough man and nonchalantly retorted to a journalist that “cowboys don’t cry”, has not minced his words either.

At the very same conference Cele told an attentive audience—and I am not sure whether when they later laughed if it was from sheer amusement or nervousness—that he swears by Section 49 of the Criminal Procedure Act.

Especially, Cele soon revealed, the part that allows for the use of deadly force, to which he boyishly remarked: “And deadly means dead”.

It is still too early to tell whether this is just political rhetoric aimed at the populist masses.

One thing for sure though, if Cele’s track record is anything to go by, you can expect action.

Cele, as Zuma pointed out in his speech, has had a successful run putting out fires of taxi violence in a volatile KwaZulu-Natal.

The only problem with this state of affairs is that most suspects deemed to have allegedly committed serious crimes in KwaZulu-Natal, on Cele’s watch, in most instances end up in body bags.

Alas, crime researcher David Bruce aptly captures what I am trying to get at when he grappled with this very same issue and stated: “It is important to clarify whether this is a war in which we take people prisoner once they have surrendered, or whether it is a war in which we kill without mercy.”


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