There are two sides to the charismatic minister of police. On a positive note, Nathi Mthethwa has proved from the start of his five-year term to be accessible; he listens when stakeholders ask him to tackle issues such as rural safety. He has invited research groups to inform him about the problems affecting police and he makes the right noises in condemning the horrific police brutality and mob violence currently sweeping the country.
In his favour, the percentage of serious crime case dockets that were ready for trial increased over the past year because of the enhanced capacity of the detective services, which was one of Mthethwa`s areas of focus. The police have also made arrests in some prominent cases this year.
On the negative side, he is not doing enough to hold police management to account. After the police opened fire and 34 miners were tragically shot dead in Marikana last year, Mthethwa`s leadership was absent.
He was lambasted when he went to court and lost his bid this year to close the commission of inquiry into policing in Khayelitsha in the Western Cape.
Heads should have rolled in the police force when the Institute for Security Studies disclosed that the crime statistics released in September contained a serious statistical error. Who, if anyone, condoned this miscalculation, which downplayed the extent to which serious violent crime categories are rising in South Africa?
To his detriment, Mthethwa is now seen as part of a supposed political conspiracy surrounding the apparent protection of the suspended crime intelligence head, Richard Mdluli. The South African Police Service Act is clear: Mthethwa should have immediately suspended Mdluli while criminal charges against him were investigated, instead of trying to move him to another post.
The same goes for his national police commissioner, Riah Phiyega, who is currently under investigation by the crime intelligence unit.
Although the credibility of the police is at an all-time low, Mthethwa does not appear to be doing much to prevent his top police management component from falling apart.