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There is much to admire about activist Ian Cameron. Smart, brave and articulate, he is best known for standing up to grandstanding police minister Bheki Cele at a public meeting in July last year. Cameron works at NGO Action Society and is focused on getting justice for the most vulnerable in South African society – primarily abused women and children living in poverty. This week, Cameron was in court again, fighting for the family of Siphokazi Booi, a woman whose horrific murder, he believes, would have been avoided but for police indifference. Cameron points to the deep malaise in the SA Police Service, which pays R1.2bn a year in taxpayer money to an astonishing 600 brigadiers and 200 generals – most of whom are political appointments. But there is a ray of hope from the Western Cape. He spoke to Alec Hogg of BizNews.
Relevant timestamps from the interview
- 01:25 – Ian Cameron on his impassioned appearance at the Paarl Court
- 05:20 – Cameron on his relationship with the South African Police Service
- 07:44 – On Police Minister Bheki Cele
- 09:41 – On his estimation of how many high-ranking police officials earned their rank and how many are political appointments
- 12:02 – On the good news in South African policing and crime fighting
- 18:20 – On the Lizel de Jager case
- 20:00 – On his solutions to combat crime in South Africa
Excerpts from the interview
Ian Cameron on Action Society’s relationship with SA police
On ground level, I must say we’ve got a fantastic relationship with the police. I really can’t complain. In fact, I would say as much as 95% of the stations that we work at, they welcome all the support. We’ve got a whole team of ex detectives and prosecutors that work together to make sure that dockets are complete, that they’ll have good quality and that we can support the members on the ground because they don’t get the resources that they need from the state. I mean, many detectives don’t even have a vehicle to take. Sometimes they don’t even have a firearm or ammunition for their firearm, and the list goes on. So we’ve got a good relationship on ground level. Unfortunately, at the top, it’s so politically infested, it’s so cancerous, and political appointments have affected SAPS to a point where it’s numbed it from the top down. I always say when good cops try to do their jobs or when they do the right thing, then they don’t get a promotion. But boy, oh, boy, if you do the wrong thing and you are corrupt, you’re almost guaranteed to see a better rank in the near future, and Bheki Cele has actually shown us that. He still demands to be called general [so] people still need to salute to [him]. He doesn’t deserve that rank. He never worked for that rank [compared to] the good career members on the ground [who] certainly do work for the respect [and] they earn the respect that they do get.
Cameron on Police Minister Bheki Cele, other “politically appointed” high-ranking SAPS officials and the state of the police service
Two weeks ago, he actually demanded that certain high ranking officers, I think it was [at] the Pretoria Academy, be sacked because when he asked for lunch, he demanded that they get pork – some kind of a pork stew or something – and they said they [didn’t] have [pork] because it’s a halal friendly institution. And he demanded they be sacked because they [didn’t] have that. There are so many more examples of [his abuse of power] [And] it was the same with Riah Phiyega [the former National Police Commissioner for SAPS]. She was also a political appointment [and] she gave herself a ten year service medal, she gave herself amalgamation medals, she gave herself a FIFA World Cup medal, and it wasn’t long before her tunic started looking a little bit like like Idi Amin’s. She was very grandly parading these medals that she supposedly earned, but she awarded all of them to herself. And Cele’s kind of the same thing.
[So] even if you are a political appointment, respect the rank that is earned in an institution like the South African Police Service, because now political appointments and influence have actually made those ranks very cheap and and it’s to the detriment of the whole country. They might think that it’s short term and that people will get used to it. Remember, we’ve got about 600 brigadiers at the moment, 200 generals, and it cost the taxpayer over R2.2 billion per year to pay [for them]. And we’re certainly not seeing the results on ground.
On the good news regarding South African crime fighting
First of all, there’s no good news regarding the crime statistics. I don’t know what country Biggie clearly lives in, but he said that the crime statistics show a turning point. But if we look at the last year’s statistics… there’s a real cause for concern... [But] we saw statistics in the Western Cape that showed a very different picture to the rest... The Western Cape government is the only provincial government that is really training their own forces in the province in a way that I believe is supposedly sustainable. And secondly, that is becoming a force to be reckoned with.
In terms of murder, there’s been a very, very clear drop on the [Western Cape’s annual] murder rate. [Since] the last crime statistics [that] were released, there was a 27% drop. And if we just look at the year-on-year decrease, it’s about 14%… [and] the Western Cape was the only province to show this kind of drop. And I must say at the current rate – the premier said that they are planning to ensure that the murder rate drops by 50% in total from 2019 to 2029 – and at the moment they are making very, very good progress.
Now, how do they do this? They’ve got the LEAD program, the Law Enforcement Advancement Program, which is based [on actual] law enforcement. What they’ve done [is] they’ve given them a little bit more training they’ve given them a little bit more depth. It’s not the Panyaza Lesufi green bean idea that we saw the other day. It’s real, proper, professional work, and they act as a deterrent [to crime], they react to intelligence that is given to them through communities [and] informers, and they work with other authorities to make sure that perpetrators are prevented from committing crimes.
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