As a long distance runner who has taken part in 21- kilometre races, South Africa’s new National Commissioner of Police, General Kehla Sitole, knows the importance of endurance.
It is his stamina, patience and commitment to the job that has kept Sitole going as a police officer in a career that spans over 30 years.
“I believe in fitness. I am an athlete, a long distance runner, I trained karate and I was one of the best soccer players. I believe fitness has kept me focused in everything I do in life,” the soft-spoken police boss revealed in a wide-ranging interview with SAnews recently.
Sitole made history recently by becoming the first career policeman to permanently head the police service since George Fivaz was appointed by President Nelson Mandela in 1995. All his predecessors were political appointments.
Sitole, a devoted father of two, has big plans for the police service and began to work on a turnaround strategy the moment he was informed of his appointment to head the more than 195 000 men and women in blue.
In his ideal world, South Africa would be crime-free and SAPS would be a world-class organisation, competing among the best in the world.
One of Sitole’s first tasks, following his appointment in November last year, was to restore the authority of the state, bring back confidence in the police service and foster unity.
“My first priority was to stamp the authority of the state so that criminals begin to know that there is policing in the country. Our communities are entitled to safety and it is their constitutional right,” he says.
But General Sitole knows that to restore confidence in the police and achieve his goal of reducing crime, he will have to start by getting his house in order and get rid of all police officers with criminal records and cases against them.
About 57 of these officers are already on their way out and more will follow, he says.
Police Minister Bheki Cele conceded in Parliament this week that 57 SAPS members working in sensitive units such as Family Violence, Child Protection and sexual offences units, have criminal records.
Minister Cele says processes were already underway to remove the officers from the system.
Strict vetting and lifestyle audits
In 2013, an audit found that several high-ranking police officials, about 1 448, were on a list of officers with criminal records.
Sitole is aware of these challenges and says vetting in the police will be beefed-up under his leadership. He is also introducing lifestyle audits for all senior managers in the SAPS.
“We have just presented our vetting strategy and the turnaround approach to Parliament and it spells out how we are going to deal with vetting. Under my leadership, there will be no one that will enter the organisation without having been vetted.
“We are now linking vetting to the recruitment strategy of the organisation. This means there will be very limited chances for people to enter the organisation without proper vetting having been done on them. Even for promotions within the organisation, vetting is going to be a requirement,” says Sitole.
On lifestyle audits, every senior manager will be subjected to monitoring and the capacity of the people to carry out this task will be increased.
“We are rooting out corruption and those who we find to have their hands dirty we will simply take our uniform from them and give them the orange uniform,” he says referring to the prison uniform which is orange in colour.
General Sitole rose through the ranks of the police after joining the then police force in 1986. Before his appointment to the top position of the National Commissioner, he had served as an assistant commissioner in his home province, Mpumalanga, and until recently, was Divisional Commissioner for Protection and Security Services.
A few months in his appointment, Sitole found himself having to confront a growing concern around police killings, the most recent case being the Engcobo massacre where gunmen opened fire at a police station killing five policemen. The killings sent shockwaves throughout the small Eastern Cape town and the country.
Sitole is now putting up drastic measures to beef-up security at all police stations across the country to prevent what happened in Engcobo from repeating elsewhere.
The measure will include that all police stations undergo physical security assessments and that each police station must have CCTV cameras.
“One of the security weaknesses which created opportunities for the people to attack the police in Engcobo is the police design itself. The design of the Engcobo police station is still the old design and does not comply with safety and security standards.
At that station, there is a wall in front of the building which shields and limits the view of the police to see what’s coming. That is why they only saw the attackers as they were firing.”
Sitole has given an instruction that the design of the Engcobo police station be changed immediately.
Cases in the public domain
Sitole appears unfazed by scepticism expressed by some members of the public stemming from the slow progress of some investigations in the police. These cases include the well-publicised case of the late Bafana Bafana star goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa. Meyiwa, who also played for Orlando Pirates, was shot and killed at a house in Vosloorus in 2014 and his killer is yet to face justice.
“I don’t want to talk much about the case of Senzo Meyiwa because that case requires action and results. It has haunted the public enough, it has haunted the family enough.
“When I came in, I put together a multi-disciplinary investigation team and I gave them a special assignment and I said you go for this particular case because it’s one of the high profile cases and its priority for us. As I am speaking, they are on it,” Sitole says adding that he treats the Meyiwa case the same way he handled the Engcobo matter.
OR Tambo Airport robberies
Another area of area of concern for Sitole is the growing organised crime incidents at Africa’s biggest airport, the OR Tambo International in Johannesburg. The airport has been a haven for organised crime in recent months with criminals targeting tourists who leave the airport.
Gauteng police revealed recently that there have been several cases where business people and tourists who were visiting South Africa were stopped immediately after they left the airport or were followed to their destination. They would then be robbed of money as well as their possessions. These incidents were followed by what was believed to be one of the biggest heist in the airport’s history when robbers made off with an estimated R24m in what appeared to be a well-planned robbery.
The public was quick to question the capacity of the police’s intelligence division after failure to detect and prevent these robberies.
Although Sitole is cautious to put the blame for the incident squarely on the door of crime intelligence division of the SAPS, he is seriously worried about the weaknesses in the country’s crime intelligence.
“I am a very open and honest person when I deal with things. What I cannot dispute and no one else can dispute is that we have serious challenges with our intelligence. The intelligence is part of the turnaround strategy I have been working on. I have started by deposing the post of General (Richard) Mdluli and made it vacant.”
Mdluli was suspended as head of the Crime Intelligence Division in 2011 and there has been no permanent boss in that post while he had been drawing salary while sitting at home.
Sitole says he will be announcing a new Crime Intelligence boss by 1 April.
“I will be redirecting and rebuilding and you will see a new Crime Intelligence Division altogether and you will be seeing a different response altogether,” he says.
Appointment of more detectives and re-enlisting
One of the areas blamed for the slow progress of investigations and backlog in police investigations has been the shortage of detectives with the SAPS. Sitole’s turnaround strategy contains a few ideas to address this.
“Within the turnaround strategy, I have designed what they call a crime detection framework and in terms of that, our first priority is the resourcing of the detectives. In resourcing them, we are looking at various approaches. The one approach is the recruitment of more detectives in order to increase the capacity.
“The short term approach is the re-enlistment of detectives and those who left the detective environment for other areas. I will extend this to the buying of hours for those people who have got detective skills but might have long retired from the police but love the police service and hate criminals.”
To complement the detectives’ capacity in a much quicker way, Sitole says bringing in technology as part of the new way of doing things.
“For instance in the issue of cybercrime, you need technology to deal with this crime and one of my priorities is the review of the crime detection technology at our disposal. This is because when the technology is advanced, we might even need less human beings,” adds Sitole.
Police cannot do it all on their own
As Sitole forges ahead in his difficult task of leading the police in a country with one of the world’s highest numbers of violent crime, he has appealed to the society to walk with him.
“Criminals reside within society. Society has the information. We will be formalising the community policing forums and we will engage more with communities. We will be empowering communities to fight crime and be self-sufficient. We cannot do anything without society and society cannot do without us,’’ he says.