South Africa’s police officers are almost as famous for their huge bottoms and big tummies as they are for failing to tackle one of the highest crime rates in the world -- but on Wednesday they were facing warnings to shed the weight or lose their job.
Fikile Mbalula, the minister responsible for the embattled police force, is concerned that in the public mind, the police are lazy, fat, corrupt and inefficient.
Now overweight officers, men and women, will have to shape up or ship out, he has ordered.
’Some police officers decide to balloon immediately after leaving the training college. Those officers are no match compared with the criminals they are after. They must work on their weight,’ he told an anti-crime summit in Pretoria.
He said police should not be busy ’massaging beer bellies’ when criminals were on the run. ’Are you fit enough to fight the criminals? If not, the police service is not for you,’ he said. ’We need officers who can match criminals pound for pound.’
Stories abound of overweight policemen being unable to chase young pickpockets and drug dealers, particularly through the rabbit warren of alleys that make up large parts of the townships.
Several dozen police officers were sent to special boot camps to get fit in the run-up to the football World Cup in the summer, amid concerns that the showpiece event could be ruined by crime. As it turned out, the event was almost crime-free.
That fact was not lost on a public impatient with the government’s inability to bring down murder rates that are the highest in the world, excluding war zones and those countries battling drug cartels, such as Mexico or Colombia.
Fat is not exclusively a police issue in South Africa: the country ranks alongside the U.S. and Germany in the obesity stakes, with 61 percent of South Africans overweight, obese or morbidly obese, according to a report by GlaxoSmithKline, the drug and healthcare company .