Cele takes aim at crime intelligence

The General is back: Police Minister Bheki Cele aims to improve the service the force provides by boosting morale, improving skills and physical fitness and ending politicised policing. (David Harrison/M&G)

The General is back: Police Minister Bheki Cele aims to improve the service the force provides by boosting morale, improving skills and physical fitness and ending politicised policing. (David Harrison/M&G)

New Police Minister Bheki Cele says a cleanout of the South African Police Service’s (SAPS’s) Crime Intelligence (CI) division, whose resources have been abused in fighting the ANC’s factional battles, is a priority.

Cele, popularly known as “the General”, also believes that this week’s massacre of five police officials and a civilian at Ngcobo police in the Eastern Cape may have been prevented had Crime Intelligence been doing its job.

In an interview with the Mail & Guardian on Thursday, Cele said Crime Intelligence was one of several units that “will have to be brought up to speed”.

“The intelligence community as a whole, and not just CI, needs to be brought back into line and to do the job it is meant to be doing.

There are strong allegations that it has been used to fight political battles. CI has been in the news with some very ugly stories. We will work on CI. Other people will have to work on the other agencies.”

Cele said that a head of the Crime Intelligence division needed to be appointed urgently.

“We will start from the head to make sure that things are fixed, that personnel and resources are going where they are supposed to go and not to places where they are used to fight people’s battles.”

He said he believed the Ngcobo tragedy “was in part the result of CI not being up to speed”.

Cele’s other priorities include building up flagging police morale, improving the way in which the SAPS works with residents and with community policing forums and placing an emphasis on physical training and improving the skills of police officials.

“There needs to be perpetual training, both physically and in terms of skills. We need to look at the issues raised in documents like the National Development Plan and the recommendations in the Farlam commission to make [sure] that we fix the problems that exist within the police.”

Cele, who was accused of promoting a “shoot to kill” culture during his 2009 to 2012 tenure as national police commissioner, said there was a need to balance “tough and decisive” action with respecting human rights.

“We are in a constitutional space and we have to police within that. The bad part is that we have very, very brutal criminals around here and the police themselves have to be safe while they do their work.”

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate needed to be allowed to do its work, both in situations such as the police killing of suspects at Ngcobo and in rooting out rogue elements in the SAPS, he said.

In June 2012, Cele (who had been targeted by fake intelligence reports after 2010) was fired by former president Jacob Zuma for his signing of a R1.7-billion lease for SAPS offices in Durban and Johannesburg.

A SAPS board of inquiry found the lease was irregular but Cele has maintained since that he was the victim of a political conspiracy to have him removed from office.

Zuma reappointed Cele as deputy agriculture minister in 2014. The lease issue had done little to dent his popularity.

Cele was unwilling to comment on “personal” matters, other than saying “some of those issues have made me wiser”.

“I’m happy about the job [as police minister]. It will be a very, very tough one. I’m not sure that I’m excited. I’m very much aware that it will be a very hard road ahead.”

Violence monitor Mary de Haas said Cele’s strength lay in his popularity with the police and his ability to boost morale.

“He will do a good job as minister if he learns from his past mistakes. He is far better suited to being minister of police than commissioner.”

De Haas said the minister should focus on depoliticising and revamping Criminal Intelligence, ensure that detective and station management training was done properly, and ensure station discipline regarding procedures.

“I cannot overemphasise the importance of a minister leaving day-to-day running of police to professional police members and not interfering,” she said.

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