The new national police commissioner, Magwashi Victoria Phiyega, was introduced to the public on Thursday afternoon for the first time, and spent a large part of the press conference reminding the thick pack of journalists that it was her first day and that she needed a bit of time to get on top of things. Her first day may have been a bit hostile, but it is nothing compared to the Herculean task she faces of running the police effectively without getting into any trouble. By SIPHO HLONGWANE
Magwashi Phiyega faces a Sisyphean task – she must convince both the public and the rank-and-file of the South African Police Service (SAPS) that she is not only fit to lead the police, but will fix the mistakes of her two predecessors. At the same time, she needs to get about the job of crime fighting; no light task in a country that is consistently ranked among the most crime-ridden in the world.
Two days after President Jacob Zuma appointed Phiyega to replace the sacked Bheki Cele, the police minister Nathi Mthethwa introduced the new commissioner to the public.
In her statement, she emphasised the need for cooperation. “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much. This is, however, a responsibility we should take with both hands, soldiering on in delivering on the mandate South Africans have entrusted upon us,” she said. “In order to succeed, I acknowledge that it is necessary to consult, listen and learn. This is should be complemented by leading and acting decisively.”
Her first days will be spent meeting with “various stakeholders” so she can learn her job and set about reaching the targets and priorities set for this financial year. There’s a ministerial 10-point plan to help guide her.
The minister’s planned targets: transformation of the SAPS into a professional police service, smarter policing, building SAPS infrastructure, increased focus on command and control, training, recruitment, improvement in the area of crime intelligence [You don’t say? – Ed] and detective services, drastically decreasing violence against women and children, implementation of a rural safety strategy and the implementation of “policy areas”.
Phiyega’s list of business credentials is glittering. She spent years at Transnet, in various positions. She was an Absa Group executive for corporate affairs, chaired the bank’s Allpay boards in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal. She served as general manager for ports and corporate affairs at the National Ports Authority. She holds an MA in social sciences from the University of Johannesburg and a post-graduate diploma in business administration from the University of Wales. However, she has no policing experience whatsoever. After the debacle with Cele, Zuma has opted for someone who great administrative skills, rather than policing experience.
When asked how her lack of experience could hamper her, Phiyega said, “I’ve never been a police [officer], but I want to say that you don’t need to be a drunkard to own a bottle store. Judge in 12 months’ time whether I have a poor capacity to learn, or not.”
Police minister Nathi Mthethwa also came to her aid, pointing out that one need not be an expert in a certain field in order to run an organisation within that field.
We can expect the SAPS to continue things in the spirit of the departed Cele, though perhaps not as raucously. “I can’t fault the spirit of the past leadership,” Phiyega said. “Today I say that no criminal must feel comfortable in our country.”
Phiyega’s call for unity within the police came after the South African Policing Union (Sapu) branded Zuma’s decision to appoint her as an insult.
“We were of the opinion that the president would have learnt that non-police officers have not made any good national police commissioners,” Sapu general secretary Oscar Skommere said in a statement. “The continued imposition of others in the top SAPS office is not only an insult to tens of deserving officers, but it also demoralises them.”
The union has promised to work together with Phiyega, however, despite disapproving of her appointment.
“We also want to state it categorically… that as professionals we are willing to work with whomever is in that office, including the new national police commissioner,” Skommere said.
“We call upon all SAPS officers as disciplined men and women in blue to give the new national commissioner the necessary support in her new office.”
The new commissioner, meanwhile, has promised to tackle corruption within the police as a matter of national priority. She will have to deal with former crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli, as well as the accusations that a secret slush fund that was created for the intelligence unit has been plundered by Mdluli and other cops.
Phiyega has promised an attentive ear, and even welcomed the advice of Cele. Which, perhaps surprisingly, has been forthcoming. At a press conference on Wednesday, the fired general said, “Work with the generals, but make sure you work most with your foot soldiers.
“Take care of the foot soldiers — they are the people fighting crime.” DM
Photo: The new national police commissioner Mangwashi Victoria Phiyega. Just behind her, the former acting national police commissioner Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi lurks. (DAILY MAVERICK/Sipho Hlongwane)