The South African government’s appointment of the first black civilian police commissioner on Wednesday is being interpreted by analysts as a first step in the demilitarisation of the leadership of the police service while at the same time speeding-up transformation under President Thabo Mbeki to better reflect the demographics of the country.
“The appointment of Jake Selebi, the Foreign Affairs director-general, as national commissioner of the South African Police Service (SAPS) points to both a desire by government to demilitarise the police service and to instil a policy-directed management of the police that will produce results in curbing the high levels of crime,” one analyst told IRIN on Thursday.
Under apartheid, the leadership of the police was organised along military lines with officers having received military training.
The analyst added that Mbeki also wants to break with the past where the top structures of the civil service are still dominated by white Afrikaner males five years after a black government has been in power. “In a country where 70 percent of the 124,000-member police service personnel are black, it makes no sense to have a leadership structure that is predominantly white,” said the analyst.
Selebi joins a string of other top appointees under Mbeki’s administration who have assumed the reins in strategic civil service jobs. Tito Mboweni, the former labour minister in former president Nelson Mandela’s government, became the first black governor of the Reserve Bank in April, while a former ANC member of parliament, Bulelani Ngcuka is the trail-blazing super attorney-general whose main brief is to prosecute crime bosses and confiscate the proceeds of crime.
Ngcuka’s hitman in the National Directorate of Prosecutions is Willie Hofmeyr, another former ANC member of parliament who spearheads the directorate’s assets forfeiture unit. Gill Marcus, the former deputy finance minister in Mandela’s cabinet is Mboweni’s senior deputy governor, while the Revenue Service is also being run by another former ANC heavyweight, Pravin Gordhan who serves as its deputy commissioner and is expected to take over when the current incumbent leaves at the end of the year.
“The appointments of top civil servants point to Mbeki’s approach of well-considered deployments of personnel who will make an impact in their fields as opposed to the first five years of a black government where the major consideration of appointing people was their (black) skin colour and qualifications,” said the analyst.
However, added the analyst, the advantages of these new appointments seem to be the streamlining of operations where performance and delivery will be the major considerations. “The appointees under Mbeki’s government possess the political authority and the ANC’s backing to deliver on their portfolios, while at the same time making transformation of the civil service a priority.”
The fact that the ministers now have a direct say over who will head their ministries, should reduce tensions between the ministers and their directors-general compared to the first five years of the democratic government, added the analyst. At least three directors-general recently resigned before their five-year terms were up mainly because of tensions betweeen them and their ministers over policy issues.
Selebi’s appointment, meanwhile, is seen as the first step in effecting changes in the manner in which the SAPS conducts its affairs. “The immediate challenge facing Selebi will be the appointment of black provincial and divisional commissioners,” said one political analyst. Currently there are only three black provincial commissioners out of nine, while the divisional command is still predominantly white and male.
The analysts IRIN spoke to agreed that Selebi is efficient and capable, judging by his track record at foreign affairs and his stint at the United Nations as South Africa’s permanent representative. These attributes, added the analysts, will bring sorely-needed credibility to the beleaguered SAPS management structure that, under his predecessor George Fivaz, acknowledged lack of success in the fight against internationl crime syndicates that now operate from South Africa and the urban terrorism being waged by gangsters in the Western Cape.
At the same time as Selebi’s appointment was announced, the government said five other directors-general were to be replaced. The directors-general of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Land Affairs and Agriculture, Environmental Affairs and Tourism, State Expenditure, and Welfare and Population are all to be replaced by new appointees while the civilian secretary of the police’s Safety and Security ministry is also set to quit.
The Safety and Security secretariat, established under Mandela’s cabinet, was meant to be the liaison between the government and the SAPS. But, said analysts, the appointment of a civilian police commissioner renders the secretariat redundant and indications are that it might be disbanded in the ongoing restructuring of the top echelons of the civil service.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions