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EDITORIAL | Protect men in blue from leadership rot

This week prisoners escaped from the Mthatha police station after criminals brazenly held up staff at gunpoint – the second time in two weeks and the fourth station in the province to be attacked in 18 months.
Our police stations are no longer safe havens at which victims of crime can seek refuge, but are themselves also becoming crime scenes.
What brings this frighteningly close to home is that last week The Herald reported on an attack at the Kareedouw police station, where a gang overpowered the single constable on duty before stealing firearms and a police radio.
While no one – fortunately – was killed at Kareedouw or Mthatha, the memory of the slaughter at Ngcobo police station in February is still fresh in our minds.
The gang which attacked that rural station killed six people – five of them police officers – and also stole lethal weapons, such as pistols, assault rifles and shotguns.
After last week’s Kareedouw robbery, provincial police commissioner Lieutenant-General Liziwe Ntshinga disclosed that a new police task team had been activated.
It comes not a moment too soon. After all, in February the then police minister Fikile Mbalula said the Ngcobo massacre was a “rude awakening to government to ensure police are protected inside police stations”.
Only a few months later, this is clearly not the case.
However, this goes deeper than beefing up security. It should also be a wake-up call to the SAPS to marshal its criminal intelligence resources in a more efficient manner.
In the past five years, this country has had 12 acting divisional commissioners in crime intelligence and the effects of this volatile and ineffectual leadership are clear.
The lack of leadership filters down as without good intelligence “on the ground”, our men in blue have no chance of keeping the wave of crime at bay and keeping citizens – themselves included – safe.
Police Minister Bheki Cele must turn his attention to protecting his men in uniform.
The rot that has been festering under the previous leadership will take time to repair.
It can and must be done.

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