Mixed welcome for new top cop

2012-06-13 00:00

PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma’s surprise announcement that Mangwashi “Riah” Phiyega is the country’s new police chief was criticised by some and praised by others.

For Johan Burger, senior researcher in the crime and justice programme at the Institute of Security Studies, Phiyega’s appointment came as a “huge disappointment”.

Insisting his concern had nothing to do with Phiyega personally, Burger said another civilian appointment sent all the wrong signals to officers.

“It’s a direct message to the leadership which says: ‘I don’t trust you’.”

Burger said this would add to the negative perception of the service in the public’s eyes.

But the Commission for Gender Equality took a different view, believing better things would emerge under Phiyega’s leadership.

“We await a more stable police service which will bring about a safer South Africa, in which all shall prosper without any form of discrimination, including on grounds of gender,” the commission said in a statement.

The Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union, which supported fired police chief Bheki Cele during the inquiry into his fitness to hold office, said it noted the “vast work experience” Phiyega brought to the position.

In congratulating Phiyega, the ANC Women’s League praised her “glowing CV and a track record of upstanding leadership” in government and the private sector.

“We believe having a strong woman at the helm of the police service will bring a renewed focus to overcoming the scourge of gender-based violence, such as rape, which has become a growing concern across the country.”

In this sector Phiyega can claim first-hand knowledge — she served as director for development at the National Council for Child Welfare and began her career with Pretoria Child Welfare.

The ANC added its congratulations. “Her experience in the public service and her knowledge of public policy and her understanding of government will come in handy in ensuring that she rises to the challenge of her new portfolio and the need to sustain our fight against crime and corruption within the police service and the public in general.”

From the opposition benches the welcome was more cautious, with Democratic Alliance shadow police minister Dianne Kohler Barnard appearing happier with the fact that Cele had been given the boot.

She downplayed Phiyega’s status as first woman police commissioner, saying it was less significant than the job before her.

“She might be able to be a chief financial officer, which Cele was clueless about. But what about the operational and strategic side?”

Inkatha Freedom Party president Mangosuthu Buthelezi said he had taken noted of Phiyega’s appointment and pledged his party’s support as she tried to restore the police’s image. He repeated his warning that the ANC’s policy of cadre deployment was detrimental to South Africa.

“Corruption has now ended the careers of two national police commissioners, and South Africa bears the cost in terms of our international image and our fight against crime.”

Buthelezi said he had warned Zuma that it was time to fill the post with a trained policeman, “not a comrade of the ANC”.

Unfortunately, the president did not heed his warning. “I can only hope that this decision will not come back to haunt our nation.”

Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven said the labour federation hoped Cele’s dismissal “will set a precedent for a policy of zero tolerance of the misuse of funds by public officials”.

The Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution said Cele’s dismissal was a vindication of Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s report last year, in which she found Cele’s conduct in respect of the lease agreements for police offices “improper and unlawful”.

Spokesperson Lawson Naidoo said public trust in the police and criminal justice system had to be restored, and the trend of using the state security apparatus to interfere in political matters stopped.

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