New top cop leapfrogged 30 to 40 seniors
Erna van Wyk and Adriaan Basson
Johannesburg - Former top cops have expressed surprise at the appointment of Lieutenant-General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi as acting national police chief, citing his lack of managerial experience.
President Jacob Zuma appointed Mkhwanazi after suspending General Bheki Cele for charges relating to his involvement in the procurement of two police buildings.
Retired ace detective Bushie Engelbrecht said Zuma skipped more than 20 more senior generals who could have been appointed.
“Mkhwanazi definitely does not have the management experience. Maybe the president wants to get rid of dead wood,” he said.
Mkhwanazi, 38, was still a major general on Monday, but as criticism mounted over his junior status Zuma silently promoted him to lieutenant general on Wednesday.
Former national police commissioner George Fivaz said normal practice was to consider the line of seniority in the police. “Maybe the President did and still found Mkhwanazi to be better suited.”
Engelbrecht, who served with many senior officers until his retirement last year, said he hoped police management would support Mkhwanazi.
Two other senior police sources said they were afraid that Mkhwanazi would be the biggest loser in his sudden elevation.
“The police is a very bureaucratic institution. Age and experience weigh heavy. What must the 30 to 40 officers who he jumped [in rank] be feeling now?” asked one source.
Both agreed that they were “shocked” and “astonished” at Zuma’s choice to lead the police.
“He is undoubtedly talented, but he is still young. He is a boy. What will happen if the pressure is too much?” said one source.
Mkhwanazi was identified a few years ago as a young police officer who should be groomed for leadership.
He rose through task force ranks and was promoted this year to the rank of major-general, heading the police’s operational services, which include public order policing units.
“He is a qualified policeman, but has very few management skills. He knows nothing about finances and managing structures. This [appointment] could actually be to his disadvantage,” said a senior police source.
Fivaz and Engelbrecht both agree it is high time a police chief was appointed from within the ranks of the police.
“I still believe if you want to be rugby captain then you had to have been a good rugby player,” Engelbrecht said.
Despite being suspended for suspicious behaviour, Cele was hailed as one of the best police chiefs the country has seen.
Fivaz described Cele as a hard-working, very committed man who has no ill will.
“Many see him as a cowboy because he sometimes made weird statements, but I think he has realised that too.”
Engelbrecht has known and worked with Cele since the early 90s when KwaZulu-Natal was a hotbed of political violence.
“He is very disciplined, stood by his officers and really made an impact on the police force in the past two years. I fully supported his move to bring back the old military ranks because the police has a para-military role and needs to be disciplined.”
Frans Cronjé, deputy chief executive of the South African Institute of Race Relations, said Cele’s suspension was “tragic” because he was on the right path to “fix” the police.
“A few years ago police officers looked like skollies. Today Cele’s ‘stomach in, chest out’ refrain has paid off. He also brought back many of the specialist units such as child protection and was responsible for the enormous security success of the World Cup.
“The crime rate has been dropping since 2003, but the drop has escalated during his two years in office,” Cronjé said.
Cronjé said if Cele had not put himself in the position that led to his suspension, he could have been the best commissioner since 1994.