The competence of the police needs to be questioned

As you read this, there’s a man lying in a coma in an ICU ward in a Krugersdorp hospital. He was shot in the head by a policeman last weekend. We know exactly what happened because the woman he was with in the bedroom of a Muldersdrift lodge filmed the entire event on her cell phone.

It’s unsettling to watch. It’s also unbelievable – unless you’re a South African. The man, since identified as Len Cloete, gets up naked to answer the door, pulling on his undies as he does. He’s confronted by a handful of police officers.

He immediately launches into a tirade, turns back into the room to fetch his own firearm which he cocks and brandishes before unloading and making it safe. Swearing at the ‘cowards’ and ‘arseholes’ who sicc-ed the police onto him, he then advances on a police woman who has drawn her sidearm. He disarms her, waves her sidearm around and appears to make the weapon safe.

All the time, he is shouting “shoot me”. As he turns away from the police officer, her male colleague steps up and does just that.

There’s been much debate since about the competence or incompetence of the police and how the situation spiralled out of control, when it should have been de-escalated. If the little film clip shows us anything, it is that real life is a lot grittier, brutish and more ambiguous than a Hollywood police procedural. Cloete, a gym owner, is a behemoth in comparison to the cops. He might, as one wag unkindly noted, have missed leg day, but he is a veritable berserker.

The real question is why he wasn’t shot when he rushed at the cops brandishing his own pistol – or when he disarmed the female officer. If he’d been black, he’d have been shot on the spot, like 16-year-old Nathaniel Julies was. There’s less than 30km between Muldersdrift and Eldorado Park, but it may as well as be an entire world away. 

We also haven’t been told what Cloete did to necessitate the summoning of a huge chunk of available police resources, on a weekend night, when most of us can’t get the cops to come out for anything less than a brutal murder on our doorsteps. Whatever he did, must have been fairly objectionable. 

The couple who were apparently with Cloete and his wife that day at the hotel won’t say for fear of ‘jeopardising the investigation’. It’s a ruse as threadbare as a politician or government spokesperson claiming sub judice. There’s nothing to see, no provocation that could justify acting the way Cloete did, with the brazen impunity he showed. Except entitlement – and probably a dop or two. He thought he could get away with it. Except he didn’t. He literally asked to be shot. He was.

It doesn’t make it right, any of it. There are huge question marks, once again, about ‘legal’ gun ownership and who gets to use them. 

The biggest issue though is consequence. If Cloete survives, he needs to have the book thrown at him. The alternative is anarchy.

Originally published by the Saturday Star on 20 November 2021.