Just Google it, Riah Phiyega

2013-09-09 10:00

Riah Phiyega has come under fire as being the latest in a litany of failed police chiefs

Does police commissioner General Riah Phiyega have access to Google?

That was what sprung to mind last weekend when she had to suspend the new Gauteng police chief hours after she announced his appointment.

Lieutenant General Bethuel Zuma has been charged with drunken driving, ­escaping lawful custody and ­defeating the ends of justice.

Phiyega didn’t know it when she appointed him. Neither, ­apparently, did any of the police’s top management that advise her on such hefty matters.

Had Phiyega typed Zuma’s name into Google, she would have stumbled upon an article in the Witness, which was published last year, describing how the general is ­alleged to have pushed a police officer at a roadblock aside and rushed away and locked himself in a house to prevent a blood test ­being done.

Unfortunately for Phiyega, her nemesis in the DA, Dianne Kohler Barnard, is an avid Googler and ­before the commissioner’s flattering eulogy to Zuma had dissipated into the chilly August air, the alarm was raised about yet another possible criminal in the top ranks of the police service.

Phiyega is unrepentant and claimed this week that the appointment was “provisional”, and that more checks would have been ­conducted.

Really, Commissioner? If it was a “provisional” appointment, he would surely have been the ­“acting” Gauteng police chief?

But what makes Phiyega’s blooper even worse is that the SA Police Service has just completed an audit revealing that 1 448 officers have criminal records.

Phiyega has blundered since her arrival at Wachthuis just more than a year ago. It is safe to say that no top government official has since 1994 lurched more from calamity to ­catastrophe than Phiyega.

It’s still not clear why she was President Jacob Zuma’s ­first choice for the post.

Prior to her appointment, she was the chairperson of the presidential review committee on state-owned enterprises and deputy chairperson of the independent commission on the remuneration of office bearers.

As lofty as these commissions sound, they certainly have no ­bearing on police work.

Phiyega is the third civilian since the disgraced Jackie Selebi to be appointed as police commissioner.

Her predecessors, Bheki Cele and Selebi, shamed the SAPS and must shoulder some of the blame for Phiyega’s perilous position.

We have to concede that Phiyega inherited a broken and fractured police service with low morale and little credibility.

Selebi dealt the police its first blow when he disbanded specialised units. Both Selebi and Cele are seen to have abused the force to settle political scores.

A Public Service Commission report shows that 20% of ­detectives are without the most basic of training.

Such inadequacies provided space for the rise of destructive forces like Lieutenant General Richard Mdluli to head the notorious crime intelligence unit.

In considering Phiyega’s appointment, one would have thought that the president would have learnt from past mistakes.

I speak to police officials on a weekly basis and they pour scorn on Phiyega.

They want a commissioner who is one of them – a lawman (or woman) they can respect, look up to and who will understand their needs.

They all name one officer that has those values in their eyes – Mzwandile Petros, the country’s most admired and respected law enforcer.

He has, over the past decade, headed the police in Western Cape and Gauteng, and is credited for reducing crime in both provinces.

But Petros has ­announced that he is leaving the police service.

Some newspapers have reported that he might be persuaded to become the new head of the Hawks. But when asked this week about staying on, he said: “I don’t intend to stay even an hour more.”

Those words are telling.

“Not an hour more.”

There are many officers who share Petros’ sentiment, yet have far less opportunity and who are stuck there.

To say it was a bad year for Phiyega is an understatement.

Think of the Marikana tragedy (and her inept performance at the commission of inquiry).

Remember the alleged murder of Mozambican taxi driver Mido Macia at the hands of nine police officers. Or share a blush over the performance of detective Hilton Botha at the Oscar Pistorius bail application hearing.

Mobsters are running riot in South Africa. Some are even feted as media celebrities.

Please tell us, General Phiyega, which “big fish” have you netted in the past year?

Why is an individual like Czech fugitive Radovan Krejcir still on the loose and making headlines with his escapades?

Organised criminals aside, only one other person seems to be happy with Phiyega’s performance.

It is, unfortunately, the ­president.

And that is the SAPS’ greatest tragedy.

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