We should not be shocked by the axing of General Khehla Sitole because from time immemorial, it was clear that the writing was on the wall as Minister Cele and General Sitole have been at loggerheads for some time and the tensions were palpable to the public. Gen Sitole has been the Director-General of the South African Police Service employed by former President Zuma. It is the same for the Minister of Police who is regarded as the political head and appointed by the president. This indicates that their daily functions are not similar, but that they have to complement another one. There was much hope in the development of the SAPS as Gen Sitole had “grown up” in the Police Service and the current Minister of Police was a former National Commissioner with much knowledge about the ins and outs of the police.
During the past few years, it has been difficult to distinguish functions from another one, to an extent that one would think the Minister was executing the functions of the National Commissioner and vice versa - a situation that was likely to create conflict between them. The expectations were high that the Minister would stick to politics while Gen Sitole’s focus should have been crime-related. Yet, in many instances, Mr Cele seemed to be the police spokesperson in all spheres. At times, Gen Sitole could be seen next to the Minister while the Minister would be delivering an address.
People would be putting the cart before the horse if they believe that the chaotic situation during unrest of July 2021 in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal was the cause of Gen Sitole’s dismissal. The unrest of that nature cannot be attributed only to the Minister and National Commissioner leaving other stakeholders untouchable. Yes, it was “the crime” but there were also other issues. Is it not possible that information about this unrest should have been gathered, analysed and correlated by all intelligence units within South Africa such as National Intelligence, Military Intelligence and Crime Intelligence? What have these intelligence units done other than informing the National Intelligence Coordinating Committee responsible for coordinating the actions and activities of all South African agencies and combining the intelligence received from them? If this intelligence was collected and generated, there is no doubt that it was disseminated to Cabinet level via the Minister of State Security who was Ms Ayanda Dlodlo at the time. Mr Cele claimed that he never received such intelligence warning of the failed insurrection which is an indication that the dispute is between the two political heads. The then Minister of State Security insisted that she provided Mr Cele with sufficient intelligence before the violence broke out. There were growing calls for all the security cluster ministers to be dismissed following the President’s concession that South Africa was ill-prepared for the mayhem that reigned. In my opinion, the disagreement between the two political heads clearly vindicates Gen Sitole.
Apart from the dispute at national level, Gen Sitole failed in dealing drastically with his subordinates pertinent to the uproar in both provinces. The violent looting must have been discussed by the offenders prior to their actions and Crime Intelligence at local level must have picked up on it, not necessarily in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. Any other Crime Intelligence in any province must have obtained this information specifically those bordering these two provinces. The raw material should have been operationalised immediately by the affected police stations in their precincts of responsibilities, being assisted by their relevant districts or provinces. Gen Sitole should have dealt with these persons in dereliction of their duties.
Gen Sitole's dismissal from the SAPS cannot be ascribed to Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal bedlam, but his poor performance could be the cause of him losing the job. The Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal issue is only a scapegoat.
Gen Sitole and others have not completed their terms of office. His predecessors Jackie Selebi, Bheki Cele and Riah Phiyega left the service before time and it is highly suspected that it will be the same with Sitole's successor. (Commissioner George Fivaz was the only National Commissioner since 1995 to complete his term in office.) It may be possible that the selection process is incorrect or superiors of commissioners have other ulterior motives.
In my opinion, a new apolitical person must be appointed, preferable from the police mainstream or a former career police officer. He or she must be appointed in accordance with the procedure that other Directors-General are appointed.
The dismissal of Gen Sitole should not be regarded as a challenge to an increase of crime. There are foot soldiers who are authorised and commissioned to prevent, investigate and combat crime. The National Commissioner is responsible to create and monitor policies and exercise control over the entire police service through his or her subordinates. There is no need to panic as no police operations should be hampered.
Dr Fikile Michael Zondeka
Retired SAPS member, criminologist and independent researcher