What a silly fuss about struggle hero Robert McBride being cnominated to head the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID). So typical of racist, Eurocentric liberals not to appreciate the unique skills set he brings to the job.

Confirming the Cabinet recommendation to Parliament, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said that IPID was “an important tool” in the arsenal against police criminality. McBride “will help this important institution to achieve (its) mandate”.

Admittedly, McBride lacks the lofty academic credentials of, say, Dr Mark Shaw, who Beeld reports to be one of the shortlisted candidates rejected. Shaw headed the Institute for Security Studies’ crime and police section, advised the Gauteng Safety Minister, chaired the Committee of Inquiry on Police Reform, and was chief drafter of the government’s 1998 White Paper on Safety and Security.

Shaw then joined the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, where he was chief of the Justice Reform Unit and worked on the Programme Against Transnational Organised Crime. He did extensive fieldwork on policing in fragile and post-conflict states before being headhunted by a Hong Kong consultancy that deals with community and conflict issues around the world.

But, hey, McBride is no academic slouch. He has a brace of BAs as well as a couple of diplomas in the art of foreign diplomacy. He also has a Higher Certificate in Bomb Making from the African National Congress’ civil terror division — now disbanded — which SA’s national qualifications agency apparently considers to be the equivalent of at least an Ivy League PhD.

Think also of the hands-on practical experience he will bring to the task. IPID investigates the outrages that rogue police officers perpetrate. Who better to understand the interplay of scruples and excess in the more than 700 deaths each year of suspects at the hands of the police, than McBride, who killed three women and wounded 69 people with a bomb placed in Magoo’s Bar in Durban in 1986?

In any case, although politically unreconstructed citizens twitter squeamishly about the Magoo’s escapade as if it demonstrates a fundamental character flaw in McBride, they ignore that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission granted him amnesty. Sometimes you have to get your hands wet, um dirty, I mean.

If anything, the Magoo’s bombing demonstrates that here is a man who knows how to follow orders and understands the chain of command. This will be a critical talent when dealing with incidents like the Marikana massacre — where the police shot and killed 34 miners — in deciding exactly where responsibility should be allocated and where deflected.

While the likes of Shaw might know about policing “fragile and post-conflict” societies, McBride knows about the murky circumstances in which fragility and conflict are actually created. He was once arrested — charges were later dropped — for arms smuggling in Mozambique while, he claims, on assignment for the National Intelligence Service. There were convictions, too, for drunk driving and defeating the ends of justice, resulting in jail sentences that were overturned on appeal.

So McBride understands first-hand that being accused of bad things doesn’t make one a bad person. It is likely that the interviewing committee — fortuitously consisting mostly of his old armed struggle comrades — will have taken this into consideration in preferring him to some ingénue who has never even seen the inside of a jail cell.

During McBride’s trial for drunk driving and defeating the ends of justice, there were eye-popping accounts of Ekurhuleni Metro Police under his control being a haven of rigged promotions, false statements, the kidnapping of suspects, the assault of witnesses and the covering up crimes. These were obviously frivolous accusations — why else would Ekurhuleni spend R12 million of ratepayer money to defend McBride? — but nevertheless, again all grist to the experience mill.

Simply put, McBride’s nomination is in the highest tradition of ANC cadre deployment. I can’t wait for the ANC’s new integrity committee to give it their public seal of approval.


William Saunderson-Meyer

William Saunderson-Meyer

This Jaundiced Eye column appears in Weekend Argus, The Citizen, and Independent on Saturday. WSM is also a book reviewer for the Sunday Times and Business Day....

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