ANC MPs on Wednesday voted to appoint Robert McBride as head of the watchdog Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID). All opposition parties opposed his nomination.
The ministry of police on Wednesday briefed Parliament's portfolio committee on police on why Cabinet recommended that controversial former Ekurhuleni Metro police chief should be appointed as the next head of the IPID.
"In November last year, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa wrote to the committee putting forward the name of Mr McBride as his preferred candidate to head the IPID. The committee hopes the process will enable it to get adequate information to deliberate on before making a recommendation to the National Assembly," Evans Molepo, from the parliamentary communication services said on Tuesday.
The position of executive director is a somewhat poisoned chalice, with police routinely coming under fire for using excessive force in crowd control scenarios, and for allegations of corruption in its ranks.
The IPID, as the police's independent investigators, is guaranteed legislative autonomy, and reports only to Parliament, and any appointment to its senior ranks, seen to be political in nature, would be likely be unpalatable.
The directorate is investigating myriad allegations by the police, and has previously complained to the portfolio committee about a lack of resources, what with swathes of its investigators redeployed to the Marikana massacre and Cato Manor investigations.
The IPID reports to Parliament, and McBride's appointment as IPID's executive director therefore has to be approved by Parliament, in which the ANC has a majority of seats.
McBride also had the backing of Cabinet, including Mthethwa. In November last year, Mthethwa asked the portfolio committee to consider McBride's candidacy for the position. Mthethwa also backed McBride's appointment and said McBride was adequately qualified for the post.
The police minister said at the time: "We believe McBride's appointment as head of IPID will help this important institution to achieve this mandate. As the ministry of police, we have done our part by putting in place a legislative framework with sufficient powers to enable the IPID to do its oversight work; it is now up
Calls for Mthethwa's resignation
But opposition parties were not convinced, with some even calling for Mthethwa's resignation, because of McBride's own brushes with the law
McBride left the Ekurhuleni Metro police after he was charged with drunken driving. He rolled his car after a Christmas party in Tshwane in 2006.
Initially convicted and sentenced to five years in prison in 2011, McBride had both the conviction and sentencing overturned in 2013.
McBride was on death row for murder in the early 1990s for his role in the bombing of the Magoos bar on Durban's beachfront. He was released along with Barend "Wit Wolf"? Strydom, by then president FW de Klerk, as a sign of good faith ahead of the Codesa negotiations, according to reports.
DA MP Dianne Kohler Barnard said at the time the DA would "vehemently" oppose McBride's appointment.
"IPID is responsible for investigating police officials in positions of authority and deals with sensitive information on a daily basis, thus the executive director must be a person free of scandal," she said shortly after news about McBride's nomination.
'Farce and mockery'
The Freedom Front Plus said the recommendation made a "farce and mockery" of Mthethwa's promises that corruption in the police would be dealt with.
"IPID investigates corruption in the police and the head of this institution should not be a controversial person and should have an irreproachable character," spokesperson Pieter Groenewald said.
But the amended IPID act does not require the IPID executive director to be a person "free from scandal", or even free of prior criminal convictions. The appointment is largely at the portfolio committee's discretion.
The Act says the person nominated by the minister of police for the post must be "suitably qualified", and that the nomination process must be in accordance with a "process to be determined by the minister".
Indeed, Mthethwa said an interview and shortlisting process had preceded McBride's endorsement as a candidate.
The Act then requires that the portfolio committee must confirm or reject the nomination within a particular timeframe. If the portfolio committee appoints the nominee, they will assume office, and will hold the position for five years. – Additional reporting by Verashni Pillay and Sapa