Ian Cameron: Bheki Cele’s fedora at the helm – The decay of justice and democracy in South Africa

South Africa grapples with a perilous surge in crime, marked by a justice system in decay under Police Minister Bheki Cele’s leadership. As crime rates soar, the once-credible South African Police Service (SAPS) faces a staggering decline in solving critical cases. Cele’s controversial past, coupled with allegations of corruption and abuse of power, paints a grim picture. The article exposes a broken system where accountability is elusive, calling for urgent reforms to restore public trust, reinstate law and order, and oust the Fedora for a renewed justice system.

Sign up for your early morning brew of the BizNews Insider to keep you up to speed with the content that matters. The newsletter will land in your inbox at 5:30am weekdays. Register here.


By Ian Cameron*

Two words come to mind when I think of the state of security in South Africa:  Justice decay. 

The alarming rise in crime in South Africa paints a bleak picture of the prevailing law and order situation in the country. The sluggish pace of legal proceedings and the apparent inefficacy of law enforcement agencies in delivering timely justice have emboldened criminals and undermined public trust in the country’s justice system. This delay in delivering justice serves perpetuates the cycle of crime and violence, allowing criminals to evade accountability.

With his signature American-gangster-style fedora hat, Police Minister Bheki Cele has become the symbol for what the South African Police Service (SAPS) has become under his leadership – a gangster’s paradise. He spends his days attending ANC meetings and funerals with his motorcade, yelling at activists, making insensitive statements about rape and trying to convince us the shocking crime statistics show a decline when the opposite is true. Not only crime but also the minister is desperately out of control. 

SAPS ought to play a pivotal role as the principal policing agency in South Africa. It is tasked with upholding the law, maintaining public order, and ensuring the safety and security of all citizens. The effectiveness and credibility of the SAPS is crucial in addressing the rampant crime rates and fostering a sense of safety and trust within the community. But with the Fedora at the helm, there has been a marked decrease in the resolution of critical criminal cases and an alarming rise in crime statistics with only 14,5% of murders and 10,43% of armed robberies being solved. This represents a 30% decrease in the likelihood of solving murders and a 39% decrease in solving armed robberies. 

Read more: Ian Cameron: Cele & Ramaphosa protect each other… A medal from China & “dirt” on top ANC officials

Civil claims against the police have skyrocketed, and the number of police officers implicated in serious crime like cash in transit heists, violent crime and Livestock syndicates are rising. According to the police’s latest annual report, SAPS faced 13 000 new civil claims in 2021/2022, and forked out more than R470 million for close to 5 000 civil claims during that period. Between 2019 and 2020, 5 489 SAPS members were arrested. Of those charged, 383 included murder, rape and stock theft. More than 5 000 firearms have been stolen from the police in the past five years. After a Hawks investigation, it was found that most of these weapons were stolen and distributed by members of the police only to be later used in a number of murders, including the killing of children or sold to gangsters in the Cape Flats. The progressive deterioration of the country’s police service under the (mis)management of the Fedora since 2018 is appalling. 

I, for one, am not surprised. A corrupt organisational culture doesn’t happen by accident, it is shaped by the worst behaviour the leadership is willing to tolerate. This goes for the whole SAPS and when you look at the track record of the current top structures of the SAPS, and specifically the police minister, Bheki Cele, one cannot be surprised that the SAPS is in the state it is.

In 2011, Cele was fired as the National Police Commissioner following serious allegations of corruption involving the building vendors, Roux Shabungu, in a R1.7 billion leasing scandal that included leases for the SAPS headquarters. Despite that, he was appointed as Minister of Police in 2018. At the Zondo Commission in 2019, a South African Crime Intelligence Unit (CI) operative Colonel Dhanajaya Naidoo, alleged that Cele was one of the politicians who strong-armed law enforcement into protecting their illicit activities. Cele was reportedly linked to a corruption ring, run by CI. The lid on a cauldron of corruption at CI was lifted by a Hawks investigator, who pointed to Cele, former police minister Nathi Mthewthwa and a high-profile journalist as benefiting from the financial abuse of CI. Cele can also be linked to Panganathan Marimuthu, a disgraced former officer reportedly involved in a drug trafficking operation to whom Cele awarded tenders when he was MEC for Transport in KZN. 

Ironically, China rewarded Bheki Cele for his “outstanding contributions towards protecting Chinese citizens” at the 15th BRICS Summit in Sandton, Johannesburg. As far as protecting South Africans goes, Cele deserves no reward. On 18 September Cele “celebrated ” small percentage decreases in crime numbers for the 1st quarter of this year. The reality is he celebrated that “only” 6 228 people were murdered, of which 293 were children and 895 were women. “Only” 9 254 rapes where reported. 

Read more: I won’t “Shut up”, Cele! – Ian Cameron on “political police” & persecution for speaking truth to power….

Cele has not only failed to protect the public but also the many good cops that have died under his watch as the country sees a spike in police killings. Most of these cops are being killed in areas where they are most needed, leaving those communities even more vulnerable. 

In Harare in the Cape Flats, there is only one police officer for every 879 people.  According to the 2021/2022 figures (provided by the Provincial office of SAPS in the Western Cape), the ratios in Khayelitsha, Samora Machel, Gugulethu, Kraaifontein and Delft are all almost double the national average of one police officer for every 413 people. In Khayelitsha the ratios are 1:628, in Samora Machel 1:778, Gugulethu 1:773, Kraaifontein 1:721 and in Delft 1:711. 

It should be common sense that the police-to-population ratio in gang-ridden areas should be double the national average. It should also be common sense that the police officers deployed in these areas must be experienced, should receive special training and should be equipped with the necessary resources to take these areas back from the criminals that are running the show at the moment. But sense is not all that common under the Fedora.  In fact, CI showed that multiple vehicles (worth a total of R100 million) were left unused at multiple police stations. If these vehicles were properly allocated to areas that needed them, the police would have been much more efficient. Meanwhile, various units in SAPS are experiencing significant problems with their radio communication systems. It has become a common practice for police members to use their personal cell phones, at their own cost, to communicate with each other. One of the units that is severely affected is the Western Cape Flying Squad. In areas such as Delft, Gugulethu, and Khayelitsha, the Flying Squad is usually deployed to active scenes first. Reliable communication for a unit like this, really can be the difference between life and death. 

It is clear that police members are left to fend for themselves in attempts to serve their communities, but when it comes to the protection of politicians, there is another standard altogether. There are 81 SAPS officers allocated per politician at great cost to taxpayers. Arriving at an ANC meeting in Browns farm in Philippi in October, Cele enjoyed a protection detail that included six flying squad vehicles, three public order vehicles and three TRT mini-buses, each vehicle with its own crew. 

Under the Fedora, SAPS, especially members of the “VIP Protection Unit”, or as I like to call them, the BlueLightMafia, have become increasingly arrogant and violent in their dealings with civilians. We saw this blatant abuse of power carried out with impunity in July when eight BlueLightMafia-thugs assaulted three civilians on the N1 near Johannesburg. Innocent motorists were violently pulled out of their vehicle by the police and kicked on the road in full view of other motorists who were fortunately able to catch them on camera. One of the victims was beaten unconscious with a R-5 assault rifle and left on the side of the road. The video went viral but the eight are currently out on bail and still employed in the SAPS.

The burning question is: Is it possible to hold the Fedora and his mafia accountable when every link, from 10111 lines, to station capacity, to investigative and forensic services and the compilation and management of dockets seems to be irreparably broken? 

Read more: SAPS: The ANC’s “Iron Fist” with Ian Cameron

President Cyril Rampahosa’s failure to implement critical performance evaluation measures for ministers, as promised in 2019, means that there is currently no way to police the police. The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) is supposed to be South Africa’s police watchdog. Its mandate is to independently investigate any misconduct or criminal activity committed by members of SAPS and Municipal Police Services (MPS). As it stands, IPID’s track record isn’t much to write home about. Of the more than 42 000 cases opened against SAPS members with IPID between 2012 and 2019, only 1% resulted in conviction and 4% in disciplinary action. So 95% of the time, police brutality offenders experienced no sanction for alleged misconduct.

Enter the new IPID Amendment Bill. Instead of strengthening the watchdog’s teeth, the Bill, if passed, will give Cele the power to appoint and remove the executive director of IPID from office, and with that, will change IPID from independent watchdog, to a bouncer for the Fedora Police Mafia.

So, thĂ­s is the current reality in South Africa: Every hour, day and night, three people are murdered. Three more narrowly escape death as victims of attempted murder and five are raped. Specialised units and skilled investigative capacity have all but collapsed, creating a knock-on effect into the justice system. Without sufficient evidence, criminals are released on bail to continue on their bloody path. SAPS is a breeding ground for inefficiency, corruption and criminality. Those who look up to the Fedora, aim to serve at the pleasure of politicians and are held at a different standard for their conduct, acting with impunity, while officers who follow a calling to serve and protect their communities are left outnumbered and under-resourced. 

Where does that leave ordinary law-abiding South-Africans? In a critical trust vacuum. This erosion of trust is not just a conceptual risk but carries tangible consequences. It fosters an environment of scepticism and fear, potentially escalating tensions between the public and law enforcement. Restoring and maintaining public trust is imperative for the effectiveness of any institution tasked with upholding justice and protecting civil liberties. It is crucial to address the elephant in the room – the Fedora. It is time to purge SAPS and we should start at the top. Cele must go.

It is clear that Cele and his mafia are not only creating a police state in South Africa, but are actively trying to uproot democracy as we know it. The fact that SAPS is still under the Fedora, sets a dangerous precedent, normalising perpetrators in power. 

Justice will continue to decay under the Fedora and we will eventually find ourselves in a police state where it is normal to have perpetrators in power. Ridding South Africa of the Fedora can be the start of what is necessary to re-establish law and order in South Africa. 

We need a holistic approach to reforms, focusing on the enhancement of law enforcement capabilities, the expeditious delivery of justice, and the restoration of public trust in the country’s justice system through robust, independent oversight. 

Read also:

*Ian Cameron is Director of Community Safety at Action Society.

Visited 1,722 times, 5 visit(s) today