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Thursday, 22 November 2007

WHY COULD PRES MBEKI BE PROTECTING POLICE CHIEF SELEBI?


Police commissioners: Satisfying the whims and caprices of their presidents.

22 November 2007, 15:52 GMT + 2

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The relationship between President Thabo Mbeki and Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi is one of the less understood of political relationships.

It will probably go down in history as the most controversial.

Yet there are many theories being bandied about as to why Mbeki is protecting Selebi - or more precisely, why search and arrest warrants issued by two separate courts were cancelled by Mbeki’s newly appointed National Director of Public Prosecution, Mokotedi Mpshe after he had met unnamed officials from Mbeki’s office and officials from the Department of Justice. This after Mbeki suspended NDPP Vusi Pikoli, questioning his fitness to preside over the important institution.
As is now well known, if it were up to Pikoli, Selebi would, by now, be in and out of court, answering for himself on charges of obstructing justice, racketeering etc.

Without digressing too much, back to the theories:

One theory is that Selebi has a lot of dirt on the President, which inevitably serves as a hedge. This theory casts aspersions on the President. And of course, this theory is often presented in a form of question rather than by giving evidence: What is it that Selebi has on Mbeki that he would go all out to block his imminent arrest? It is a justifiable question for which an answer will remain elusive.
Another theory is that Selebi has served Mbeki just right previously. Why would he dump him in this crucial hour.

This relates to the fact that a few months ahead of the ANC’s 51st national conference at Stellenbosch in 2002, Selebi publicly confirmed that he was investigating ANC leaders Cyril Ramaphosa, Tokyo Sexwale and Mathews Phosa for ganging up to topple Mbeki. The ANC therefore had to protect and defend Mbeki against the plotters. This was the second major conspiratorial statement after the 1994 democratic breakthrough. (The first was made by General George Meiring, who alleged that Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and other ANC leaders were plotting to oust the Nelson Mandela government. Mandela moved swiftly to fire Meiring for making inflammatory statements.)

And after Selebi and his then political boss Steve Tshwete publicly lied about the three senior ANC leaders, they got nothing but tacit approval from Mbeki. Talk about unshakable loyalties: Mbeki and Selebi’s relationship is cemented by political conspiracy.

Contrast Mbeki’s leniency towards Selebi with Mandela’s forthright handling of George Meiring. All of these proved to be damn good Political Conspiracy 101 for Jacob Zuma. When he says there is conspiracy aimed at blocking his political aspirations, it’s difficult not to believe it, especially when conspiracy was previously used and legitimised by the head of police to damage the reputations of individuals, who, as has it since become clear, are untainted.

Not satisfied with conspiracy as an analytical tool to understand the Mbek-Selebi relationship, I went searching in the library for clues. I paged through many books and journals, read relationship theories and decision-making theories. This I did after realising that the Constitution of the country and all the laws on the president’s prerogatives are too legalistic and would not help. The day judges were hounded at night to cancel the warrants of arrest, was the day legal principles fell by the wayside. And so an explanation had to be found somewhere else.
So in my literary sojourn, I came across one article, which, though not satisfactory, provides some insights that might or might not help us understand the Mbeki-Selebi relationship. The article, written by Alice Hills of the School of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds, was published in the Journal of Modern African Studies (Vol 45, No 3, September, 2007). Entitled “Police Commissioners, Presidents and Governance of Security”, argues that the assessment of Africa’s police in terms of their adherence to democratic criteria results in inaccurate analysis because “the police are actually governed according to presidential preferences”.

The article explores the relationship between presidents and police chiefs in Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe – all of which, according to the article, “confirms the negligible role played by public accountability.”
One could be forgiven for thinking that the author might have also have had in mind the current developments in South Africa when she wrote the article. The article asks pertinent question: How are presidential political choices operationalised? What part do commissioners play in this process?

It then offers an answer: “Presidents employ (police commissioners) both to intimidate, constrain and use the police for purposes in which public accountability plays no part.” It sounds familiar.

Based on the analysis of events in other countries other than ours, Hill further states that the “the more usual pattern is for commissioners to be retained while useful and dismissed after offending their presidents in some way.
“Thus [Nigerian Inspector General (police chief) Sunday] Ehindero should have retired on reaching the mandatory age of 60, but [Nigerian President Olusegun] Obasanjo evidently found him useful and twice extended his term. In contrast, an angry President [Levy] Mwanawasa of Zambia dismissed Zunga Siakalima in July 2005 for delaying the arrest of an opposition leader, and questioning the legitimacy of his verbal orders.”

Hill further writes: “politicization is most evident in Zimbabwe, where Commissioner Augustine Chuhuri offers an examplar of the explicitly political role (police) commissioners play in operationalising presidential survival strategies. Although the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) are officially under the authority of the Ministry of Home Affairs, in practice its important roles and missions are controlled by the President’s Office….

“The operational effects of Chihuri’s relationship to Mugabe are evident in his overtly political role. Witness Operation Murambatsvina, in 2005, when more than 30 000 people were subjected to an intimidating arrest-detention-release cycle, and 200 000 lost their shanties to bulldozers and police armed with matches and kerosene (IWPR 2005). Kembo Mohadi, the hawkish Minister of Home Affairs responsible for police, avoided publicly commenting on the controversial operation, but Chihuri showed no reticence: ‘We must clean the country of the crawling mass of maggots bent on destroying the economy’ (ZWNews 2005).”

In her article Hill presents a somewhat encouraging picture on Ghana. The appointment of Patrick Kwateng Acheampong by President John Kufuor has been hailed. On one occasion Cheampong is reported to have told a gathering that it was wrong that he should be seen to be satisfying the “whims and caprices of politicians” (Addo 2002).

What is evident here at home is that satisfying the “whims and caprices of politicians” actually pays.

Ask Jackie.

MPUMELELO MKHABELA

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