Fresh blood or lambs to the slaughter?

All available indicators show that public sector corruption has worsened during President Jacob Zuma's first term. This is not surprising given that ethical governance appears to have collapsed at the highest levels of government as various scandals such as 'Guptagate' and 'Nkandlagate' reveal. Of course, this was foreseeable with the closure of one of the most effective anti-corruption agencies ever seen in South Africa, if not the world, namely the Scorpions, shortly after Zuma took office. However, how damaging this administration would be to the security cluster only became apparent later on.

The former security cluster ministers, including Siyabonga Cwele of Intelligence, Nathi Mthethwa of Police and Jeff Radebe of Justice, were deeply implicated in a range of scandals during this period. The public watched as poor appointments were made with regards to senior positions in the criminal justice departments, such as disgraced Advocate Menzi Simelane as National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) and Bheki Cele as National Commissioner of the South African Police Service (SAPS). Both appointments ended in disaster and highlighted how little regard the president and his ministers had for integrity and competence in their appointments to the highest echelons of the criminal justice system.

Moreover, there was the reportedly direct interference in the functioning of these important departments. Particular low points included Mthethwa's alleged direct interference to halt all criminal investigations and disciplinary proceedings against head of police crime intelligence Lieutenant-General Richard Mdluli despite mountains of hard evidence of malfeasance. Similarly, it has been alleged that Cwele forced out the three top state security bosses due to their investigations into the Gupta family's influence over Zuma, with them reportedly bankrolling various of his family members.

Unfortunately, these antics have resulted in deterioration of the effectiveness of the intelligence agencies, the police and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). For example, the National Planning Commission has referred to "the ongoing crises of top management" as an issue that needs to be urgently addressed. Indeed, weak police leadership is the fundamental reason why widespread police brutality and corruption continue in South Africa. The NPA has also suffered a crisis of credibility as politically connected individuals have had corruption and other serious charges withdrawn against them, in contravention of the law as the courts found in the case of Mdluli. The recently released annual reports of the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence presented an intelligence service in a severe state of disarray.

It is therefore not surprising that the crime statistics released last year showed notable increases in most violent and serious crime categories such as murder, attempted murder, the robbery of homes and businesses, and the hijacking of motor vehicles and trucks.

Nevertheless, we should not equate the redeployment of the former security cluster ministers to other portfolios as punishment for these failures. In many of these scandals, it is likely that the ministers involved were acting in Zuma's private interests. For example, it has been alleged that Mdluli was a likely source of the 'spy tapes' that resulted in the controversial decision by the NPA to withdraw 783 criminal charges against Zuma. Therefore, the alleged attempts by Mthethwa and SAPS National Commissioner Riah Phiyega to protect Mdluli are in line with Zuma's personal interests, while being against the rule of law. Otherwise why should these individuals suffer such a loss of personal credibility for doing so? Indeed, redeployment of these ministers to other portfolios will see them suffer no financial loss. They will continue to earn high salaries with all the perks and social prestige that comes with being a minister.

Rather, their redeployment is more likely an effort by the president to project a new security cluster that is removed from these previous scandals. Therefore, if the report on the Marikana Commission of Inquiry makes damning findings against the police, the current minister of police will not have to take any blame. Similarly, the current security cluster ministers will be somewhat insulated by the deeply cynical attempt to delay action on the public protector's findings through reviewing her report on Nkandla. These ministers can simply say they are simply letting the law take its course. Given that this legal action is likely to fail dismally, they will also be able to distance themselves from the decision to review the report by the courts.

So what can we expect from the new security cluster ministers? For now the question remains as to whether Zuma will allow them to implement the recommendations of the National Development Plan, which will go a long way to improving the criminal justice system and the police. Alternatively, will he expect the new ministers to continue where the previous ministers left off, that is, to act in his personal interests even if this is at odds with their oaths of office? Time will certainly tell whether they will be seen as an injection of much-needed fresh blood that results in improvements in their departments, or will they, like those before them, become to be seen as lambs to the slaughter whose public credibility will ultimately lie in tatters.

Gareth Newham is head of the governance, crime and justice division of the Institute for Security Studies. Follow him on Twiitter @gdnewham