NATIONAL NEWS - Ask any woman who has ascended to a prominent role in a male-dominated field just how hard she has had to work and you’re likely to get a sarcastic rolling of the eyes or a sigh of disbelief.
Jennifer Dikeledi Ntlatseng is the new head of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID).
She is the first woman to occupy the position as the Executive Head of the police watchdog body.
Born in Soweto, the 49-year-old assumed her new role on 2 August 2020, in what could be seen as an ode to Women’s Month, which is commemorated in South Africa annually in August.
Like many women will profess, she’s had to work twice as hard to get to where she is today, despite progress made in advancing women’s rights, broadening women’s access to education and improving their participation in the economy among others.
“It’s a good inroad that we have made as women in a field that has always been seen as a male-dominated field. It puts us on the map, but I’ve realised that you have to work twice as hard because you must prove that you have skills to lead the institution to a different direction,” she says.
In a virtual interview with SAnews, while propped on a black leather chair, she is not oblivious to the hurdles she will have to clear during her tutelage.
“It’s a mammoth task. It’s not as easy as people would view it from the outside. Because, one: it is striving for the independence of the directorate and, two: it is a dangerous terrain. I am saying that I am committing to investigate any wrongdoings by the South African Police Service (SAPS),” she says.
The lime mug she holds in her hand is a reminder of the chill brought on by a cold front outside. The directorate has in recent history been fraught by well-documented challenges that have somewhat compromised its integrity.
Police Minister Bheki Cele welcomed Ntlatseng’s appointment earlier this month and urged her to exercise her duties without fear or favour.
She admits that she has a challenging job.
“It’s challenging on a day-to-day basis but I also need to assure [the public] that I am going to make [sure that] their issues are being dealt with. I will make sure that all the cases that are opened are dealt with.”
She is no novice to policing matters having spent the last two decades in various roles in Gauteng’s Department of Community Safety.
Her 20-year tenure in the provincial department saw her soar from an administrative officer in 1996 to being Director for Community Police Relations at the time of her departure.
“I know it’s going to be difficult. For as long as we don’t get enough evidence to prosecute, for as long as we don’t get whistle-blowers on these crimes, our lives are going to be very difficult,” she said.
Despite this, she’s upbeat about the task.
One of her primary tasks is to reposition the portrayal of the directorate by the public.
“People must view us differently, people must see us doing work differently from the SAPS, people must be confident that we will work with them to deal with corruption or challenges or wrongdoing by the SAPS,” she says.
Reflecting on her first day in office, Ntlatseng found staff that was ready to work.
“I found workers who were ready to come on board in implementing the vision that I came with,” she said, admitting there would be some challenges in terms of systems in place, which will be addressed.
She also expressed appreciation for the support she is receiving from staff at the IPID as well as the commitment they have shown.
“It is people who are willing to work with me, who are willing to go the extra mile, go beyond their normal working hours.”
This, she said, was encouraging.
“They don’t work 9 to 5. Crime is being committed daily and they are willing to answer my calls [at] any time of the day. I come from an environment where your phone is forever answered, whether is it’s AM or it’s midnight.”
She said she is keen to consolidate the office’s relationship with the SAPS and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).
The teeming backlog of investigative cases plaguing IPID is another issue that has given the Executive Director sleepless nights. At the root cause of this, she says, is outstanding pathology reports.
“It’s important that we share those cases with the NPA. We need to strengthen the harmonious relationship with the NPA, but secondly, come up with systems that will fast-track processes of dealing with those cases.”
The IPID is also confronted by frustrations of capacity shortages. The directorate currently has 330 staff across its regional offices.
Describing it as a “serious challenge”, she says the Directorate is keen on addressing systematic corruption in the police service but that staff shortages is hindering this process.
“We have to beef-up capacity, make sure that it is at a level at which we feel that highly skilled officers are on board investigating systematic issues.”
To address this, she has initiated a recruitment drive solely focusing on law and forensics students.
The Executive Director is also looking forward to sharing information with communities so that they can have input on IPID programmes. There are also plans to initiate a toll-free number for communities to report issues.
After hours, the toll-free number will be diverted to designated officials’ cellphone numbers for swift response.
On the institution’s relationship with the SAPS, Ntlatseng is at ease.
“We have management in the institutions which is willing to give us information. The IPID Act is clear, they have to give information timeously to us, and they are.”
Where there are challenges, she says National Police Commissioner, General Khehla Sitole, is always willing to assist.
Having spent the majority of her career in the Gauteng Department of Community Safety over the years, Ntlatseng has developed a passion for community development.
“Community issues are things in my heart. I I engage robustly with leaders in communities. I work very closely with community policing forums. I’ve worked very closely with youth desks, I’ve also worked very closely with community development workers – community development is something I know best,” she said. Chief among these is addressing gender-based violence and drug abuse.
She obtained her Matric at Mafori Mphahlele High School in1989 and went on to pursue law degrees at the University of Witwatersrand and the University of South Africa where she obtained a B. Proc and an LLB.
The mother of two, grew up with a passion for law and was always part of debate teams at school.
“If it wasn’t for government, I would have probably gone on to practice as an attorney. That was my dream but destiny dictated otherwise,” she said.
Her passions, she said, was in Criminal Law, the Criminal Procedure Act – including the law of Evidence.
“I felt it was more befitting if I practiced in safety and security, it was about making sure that theory was turned into practice. When I joined the [then] Department of Safety, there was just a few of us, so we were given an opportunity to grow it. While I started off as an admin officer, I ended up as a Director, so it shows that they had already identified the potential in me and realised that my strengths and capabilities to run with some of the programmes [that were] there.”
She played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Gauteng Patroller Programme when it was initiated in 2006.
The project has since been widened to include the School Patrol Programme. She was also part of the team that developed the provincial Prevention of Domestic Violence and Child Abuse Strategy. It was during her tenure that the province also established a Youth Desk.
Asked what she envisioned her IPID legacy to be, Ntlatseng is resolute on dealing with police corruption, femicide and on ensuring that the Directorate becomes more transparent.
“I want to leave here having made inroads in dealing with drugs and arresting police officers who are on the payroll of drug lords,” she says.
There is no doubt that Ntlatseng also has a love for community development.
“Community issues are things in my heart, I engage robustly with leaders in communities. I work very closely with community policing forums, I’ve worked very closely with youth desks, and I’ve also worked very closely with community development workers. Community development is something I know best,” she said.
Chief among these is addressing gender-based violence and drug abuse with the IPD in the process of developing a Gender-based Violence (GBV) strategy.
“We are now in the process of developing a GBV strategy to deal with such crimes in a more coordinated manner. We should be able to develop an action plan because this is a war that we are in. What we are going to be engaging community based non-governmental organisations and the Women’s Ministry in the Presidency to assist us in, is beefing up our own strategy,” she said.
She is keen on making an “indelible mark on GBV” as well as restoring communities’ confidence in the criminal justice system while also tackling the country’s drug problem.
When not deciphering allegations of deaths in police cells, torture and murder and other misconduct by officers, Ntlatseng is likely to found slouched on her sofa in front of her television set feeding her latest obsession.
“Since I joined IPID, I’ve started to watch crime and investigation channels,” she says.
While still in the early days of her position, it is clear that Ntlatseng is a woman on a mission.