Nathi Mthethwa: a big cop-out? A follow-up letter from the Pedantic Player to the Minister of Safety and Security

Undeterred by Nathi’s failure to reply to her previous letter, the Pedantic Player, challenges him about who bears the responsbility for fighting crime in South Africa.

Dear Nathi

You didn’t reply to my previous letter. Luckily I am not the type to have a farible*, but I don’t give up easily, either.

Last night my neighbour woke up with a strange man in her bedroom. I wanted to tell her she should stop picking up drunk students, when I realised that she meant an uninvited  stranger, an intruder. I’m not one who gets easily shocked, but that stopped me in my tracks. And it got me thinking.

I’m interested to know, when you get a moment, just where the boundary lies between your responsibility as police and our responsibility as tax-paying citizens of this country.

I was thrilled to note the SAPS website has a useful section called Crime Prevention: Safety Tips.  In the home section, you urge the public:

“If you are able to install additional security devices, do so as every deterrent helps! Consider installing a burglar alarm and panic buttons, burglar bars and security gates as well as remote control gates and garage doors to prevent you from having to step out of your car when leaving and returning home.” 

Again, forgive my ignorance, but does this mean we shouldn’t blame you if we get burgled because we didn’t have the latest laser beams and electric fence cocooning our home?

read that you have built a security wall around your own home. I’m so relieved that you and Mrs Mthethwa are safe and I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. But, unlike you, we common people have to pay out of our own pockets for fences, alarms and burglar bars. (I know the Auditor General found that you weren’t aware of the source of the funds used to build the security wall around your home. But come, come Nathi, you obviously knew it wasn’t coming out of your own pocket. Don’t worry, I’ll keep this between us).

I trust you’ve advised your colleague, Mr Zuma, about the security arrangements for Nkandla. With all our that money at his disposal, I am sure he can afford all the “additional security devices” you refer to.

The website also advises:

“Know your neighbours and build a relationship of mutual trust and support. When going away inform them.”

Clearly, things are a bit different in KZN where you and Mr Zuma live. In many suburbs in Cape Town, the residents fear their neighbours more than they fear strangers. Have you visited the Cape Flats recently? Maybe you’ve been too busy to read about the shooting of innocent children in these areas? I know the DA govern this province, but I’m told that policing is a national competency. I may be wrong, but I think that means that you are responsible for making the Mother City safe, too.

I know it’s sometimes hard for you to comment publicly on things. As you told those inquisitive Tshwane University of Technology students last month, so much of your department’s work is subject to commissions of enquiry and so, sub iudice. (Please don’t tell Caryn I used a Latin phrase. She gets so touchy about things like this and will definitely give me one of her plain language lectures. ) You also stated:

Crime does not simply disappear; we must create conditions that will make it disappear. This requires concerted, united action by all citizens. It cannot be left to police alone.”

I found the  SAPS Strategic Plan 2010-2014 commendable. I can’t say I understood everything, what with all the big words and jargon, but I think I got the general idea. (As an aside, it’s best not to show that document to Caryn. I’ve got your back.)

Given that the vision of SAPS is “to create a safe and secure environment for all the people in South Africa”, and that your job title is Minister of Safety and Security, I’m a bit disappointed by the plan’s slogan, which echoes your words to those TUTting students.

 “Sibambisene singabuqeda ubugebengu – together we can defeat crime.”

You see, my job title is not as impressive as yours. I like to think of myself as a home executive rather than a homemaker or, shudder, housewife but I wouldn’t go as far as calling myself Minister of Home Affairs like that silly woman on Come Dine with Me South Africa.

Whatever the title, my job involves seeing to the smooth running of my own household on a full-time but voluntary basis. No matter how lonely or bored I get, you don’t hear me urging others to share my burden, do you? I’ve never asked you, or anyone else for that matter, to clean my house. I do my own shopping and cooking. And, if something goes wrong and I need an expert, I pay them for their services. I’m told I have a lot of chutzpah, but I have pride too. What would people think if I used the slogan “together we can run my house” to transfer some of my burden to them?

Nathi, I’m old enough to be your mother so let me give you some free advice. It’s time to take responsibility. You, as the top cop, are paid to keep the citizens of this country safe and secure. Don’t you think making your problem ours is just a little bit of a cop-out?

I look forward to the day when all South Africans can choose which strange men or women to invite into their bedrooms.



*farible – (Yiddish) grudge

*chutzpah – (Yiddish) audacity (which is an inadequate definition, I think)