New top cop ready for challenge

2012-06-13 00:00

IT has become democratic South Africa’s poisoned chalice, but the country’s new police chief Mangwashi “Riah” Phiyega has declared herself ready for the mammoth job.

Last night Phiyega told The Witness she welcomed the task given her by President Jacob Zuma.

“I really accept the appointment with humility and the understanding that this is an enormous responsibility before me. I am humbled by the vote of confidence.”

Zuma has turned to Phiyega in the wake of recurring scandals in the service’s top echelons, handing her the reins after formally announcing Bheki Cele’s axing yesterday.

He had in fact already fired Cele in writing last Tuesday, as reported in The Witness on Thursday.

Phiyega — who analysts said would shoulder the enormous burden of restoring morale within the ranks — was quick to honour her new charges.

“I am really looking forward to working with the men and women who are protecting this country,” she said.

Her appointment was described as a surprise by many who were caught off guard, including senior members of the police in Pretoria who were frantically trying to find out more about their incoming boss hours after the announcement.

Phiyega becomes the first woman to lead the police service, but despite vast business expertise, is controversially another civilian in the hot seat.

And with the ANC’s elective conference in Mangaung six months away, her appointment is seen by independent political analyst Daniel Silke as key to Zuma’s bid for another term.

“It will be a baptism of fire for her to take over under such negative public perceptions [of the police service],” said Silke.

A social worker by training, Phiyega has been on the political radar for some time, serving as chairperson of the presidential review committee on state-owned enterprises and deputy chair of the independent commission on the remuneration of office bearers.

Judge Willie Seriti, who heads the remuneration commission, said there was no doubting the capabilities of his second-in-command.

“I rely heavily on her. She is a strong and hardworking woman with common sense who works to reconcile divergent views without imposing herself.”

Seriti said Phiyega’s corporate knowledge and integrity were the ideal remedy for the ailing police service.

“They need somebody like her,” he said, adding that it was a “tough job” he believed she would carry out with distinction.

A former colleague, Transnet Freight Rail chief executive Siyabonga Gama, gave Phiyega’s appointment the thumbs-up.

“She’s going to fix this thing very quickly. She’s a very good listener. She will listen, but will also take action.” He described Phiyega as “fiercely independent”.

Decades of experience in the private sector and state entities played a big part in Zuma’s selection.

Zuma told reporters that he had confidence she would acquit herself well.

“Ms Phiyega brings a wealth of experience as a senior executive who understands the responsibility of government in the fight against crime and the duties imposed in dealing with state assets,” he said.

Others paid similar tributes to her managerial prowess.

Born in Polokwane, Phiyega is a mother and grandmother who cares deeply about the promotion of women’s rights.

In the Mail & Guardian’s Book of Women 2011, she wrote: “Behind the façade of centuries of male domination, the women of the world have always, against all odds, held the fabric of society together.”

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