09/10/2017 14:24 SAST | Updated 09/10/2017 15:20 SAST

Fikile Mbalula's 'Ball Crushing' Comments Less Frightening Than Escalating Crime -- Analyst

The police minister has come under fire for his graphic language, but Chris de Kock says the stats show a tough approach can work to boost morale among officers.

Police Minister Fikile Mbalula is only playing the role of national police commissioner because of the leadership vacuum in policing, says independent crime analyst Chris de Kock.

The SA Police Union (Sapu) on Friday criticised Mbalula for "acting like he is the national commissioner", saying he had become involved operationally more than he should, according to EWN.

The union criticised Mbalula's use of extreme or vulgar language when speaking about crime fighting, some of which has garnered broader public criticism in recent months.

The controversial minister on Wednesday was quoted instructing, in isiXhosa, the police's notorious Tactical Response Team to "squeeze... crush the balls of criminals... [who] are undermining the sovereignty of our country" and make criminals drink their urine.

'No scientific basis to say this will make police more aggressive'

Commenting on whether Mbalula's harsh words for criminals could encourage police brutality or set a harmful precedent, De Kock said it was unlikely police would overreact or take his words literally.

The other side of the coin, he said, was that criminals were often "extremely violent" towards both police and citizens and "don't hesitate to kill, even themselves", he said. Extreme violence on the part of criminals, then, partly accounts for Mbalula's impassioned approach, he said.

This sentiment was similarly expressed by Mbalula in response to criticism directed at him over his "crushing [criminals'] balls" comments.

In addition to claiming he was misinterpreted -- in other words, not talking about testicles -- Mbalula said "violent criminals didn't come to you smiling... they've chosen to become animals... combat is accompanied by combat language".

Although not endorsing Mbalula's choice of words, De Kock also said he doesn't blame Mbalula because "there is also no [permanent] national commissioner [to take a firm stance], so he has had to play that role".

At present, Lesetja Mothiba, who was appointed three months ago, is the acting commissioner. Mothiba replaced previous acting commissioner Khomotso Pahlane, who was suspended in light of allegations of impropriety and corruption by forensic investigator Paul O'Sullivan.

The current absence of strong leadership, De Kock said, has accompanied reversals in the (larger) fight against crime.

Under previous national commissioner Bheki Cele, widely known for his "shoot to kill" directive to police, the "same kind of talk [as Mbalula] boosted morale" in the police and saw overall improvements, he said.

"They [police] felt they had strong leadership and crime trends improved during this period," he said, emphasising the former commissioner's controversial leadership style as only one of several factors contributing to crime reduction during that period.

Chris De Kock

Of much greater concern than Mbalula's choice of words at this point, De Kock said, was halting crime (broadly speaking) from escalating further.

If the figures continue like this, we'll have a crisis bigger than the 1990s on our hands.

"We are moving towards a crisis," he said, adding that strong leadership is an important component in boosting morale and ramping up efforts against crime.

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga, in a News24 opinion piece on Monday, said the message that crime was a serious problem in South Africa and required stern leadership can, however, be "conveyed without having to denigrate anyone in society by using bad language".

"The choice should not be between being vulgar and effective in deterring criminals on the one hand, and being civilised and letting criminals go, on the other hand. Crime can be fought successfully while retaining some level of civility. Being civil does not mean being soft," he wrote.