Go for it ma’am. With intelligence!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Jacob Zuma left me pleasantly surprised this week. It's only the second time that this has happened since he became our president.

The first time was when he appointed General Siphiwe Nyanda as Minister of Communications.

General Nyanda proceeded to do the impossible by cleaning up the mess that was Sentech – the national broadcast signal distributor owned by the government.

This time around, the surprise was his announcement of the appointment of Mangwashi "Riah" Phiyega as national police commissioner.

Phiyega is a businesswoman with a good academic record including an MA from RAU and a post graduate diploma in business administration from Wales.

The Mail and Guardian had rare praise for Zuma saying: "Phiyega’s background as Transnet group executive and her work in the presidential committee reviewing state-owned enterprises have given her a reputation as a highly effective administrator."

There was, of course, the usual bleating from the chattering classes about a disaster in the making because the commissioner would not know one end of a firearm from another.

I've dismissed those as irrelevant. Phiyega, based on her track record, would never have leased a building worth less than R100 million for R500 million.

Phiyega is not promising quick fixes. "Ladies and gentlemen, we will be working towards a paradigm shift in the police. The training and development of our members will remain a priority; indeed human capital investment adds value which leads to success.

“Strengthening the administrative leg will also be top on the agenda, including improving internal and external relations in the interest of service delivery, and taking decisive position on corruption."

So these are all positive signs. How then should she go about delivering on her promises?

Think about it: What is a policeman's (or woman's) job? I'll give you a clue. It's not to be a security guard.

The job of a police officer is the prevention and detection of crime.

Yes, in some cases, police officers are called on to do other things such as the maintenance of public order or VIP protection or child protection, but the prevention and detection of crime is generally accomplished by intelligence rather than by force.

No amount of "shoot to kill" bluster is going to achieve anything in the fight against crime unless one is able to find the commander-in-chief of the criminal foot soldiers.

So I have a quick fix, and it's one that is very simple to implement: change the criteria for admission to the police force.

Right now, if my recent interactions with most of the personnel who staff Johannesburg's police stations are anything to go by, the ability to read, write, and count does not feature very highly on the list.

Neither does the ability to drive a vehicle correctly given the number of police cars written off every year.

Let's start with the raw materials: we have among us more than 300 000 unemployed graduates who cannot find a job.

So the first rule should be that only graduates will be considered for employment.

Second, we're not particularly interested in lame-ass degrees such as theology or art history.

About 100 000 of our unemployed graduates have engineering and science qualifications, so let's say we are only going to employ those.

Thirdly, there are too many police vehicles sitting idle for lack of drivers, so we should insist that one needs a drivers licence to be considered. That will drop our numbers down to about 50 000.

Finally, we should insist on obese people being automatically disqualified. If you have a body mass index of more than 30, it means that you are unlikely to be able to chase after criminals. That should eliminate a further 5 000 or so candidates.

So, Madam Commissioner, there's your blueprint. You've declared 2012 to be the Year of Detectives. You can draw upon around 40 000 intellectually and physically fit candidates to become the detectives we need to tackle crime.

I must warn you though that competence is not necessarily a recipe for longevity under the Zuma administration. General Nyanda did a superb job of cleaning up Sentech and still got fired.

You've asked us to judge you after a year. You might not have that long, so make the best of it during that time.