Why I should keep my job: What Riah Phiyega told Zuma

National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega.
National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega.
Deaan Vivier/Foto24

National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega is expected to do a Pontius Pilate in her official submission to President Zuma on why she is fit to hold office.

Phiyega is set to blame her predecessor Bheki Cele’s militarisation of the police and the fact that, as she was only two months into the job when the Marikana massacre happened, she trusted that her senior management and officers knew what they were doing in handling the crisis.

Sources inside and close to the police leadership told City Press the national police commissioner was also expected to argue that the massacre took place only two months after she was appointed.

She would also say she had trusted that senior police officers knew what they were doing in handling the crisis.

City Press has learnt that key senior police managers attended a meeting in Pretoria two weeks ago where they strategised with Phiyega about how to formulate a suitable response to President Zuma. She had been given until Friday to explain why she should remain in her position.

The presidency announced yesterday that Phiyega had submitted her response.

A statement sent late on Friday night suggested she had missed the deadline.

Judge Ian Farlam, who chaired the commission into the Marikana massacre, recommended in his report that a probe should be instituted into Phiyega’s fitness to hold office. In June, Zuma released the findings of the inquiry into the 2012 shootings of 34 striking miners by police at Lonmin’s Marikana mine.

Senior police managers who attended the high-level meeting two weeks ago told City Press that Phiyega would place much of the blame on her predecessors – especially Bheki Cele – who were responsible for militarising the police.

“She is saying the service was militarised and she is now trying to reverse the situation,” said an insider.

Another source said Phiyega would argue she had left most of the decisions on how to disperse the crowd that gathered in Marikana on the day of the massacre to senior police officers.

“She trusted her senior officers to know what they were doing,” said a source close to Phiyega.

The sources said Phiyega would also highlight her track record, indicating that she had reinforced the public order policing unit and had teamed up with Unisa in a bid to professionalise the police service.

But her detractors have dismissed this defence, saying she would be committing “career suicide” if she adopted that line.

“She can’t insulate herself, she involved herself in much of the decision making,” said a police insider who is unsympathetic to her.

Presidency spokesperson Bongani Majola said in a statement Zuma would study her response before deciding on further action “and the nature of such intervention”.

Phiyega’s spokesperson, Lieutenant General Solomon Makgale, had not responded to questions at the time of going to press.

– Additional reporting by Caiphus Kgosana

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