South Africa

South Africa

Phiyega: ‘I am not a criminal’

Phiyega: ‘I am not a criminal’

Suspended National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega defended herself forcefully on Wednesday against criminal charges that could be laid for misleading the Marikana Commission of Inquiry. All she wants to do is tell the truth, she says, but allegations that she hasn't in the past is how she got here in the first place. By GREG NICOLSON.

“I did not lie and I am not a criminal,” said Phiyega in a press conference. She said she looks forward to proving her case in the inquiry into her fitness to hold office, to begin 3 May, and will cooperate if criminal charges proceed against her.

“I have full confidence that our country’s judicial system will afford me a fair trial. In fact under the circumstances I find myself in it is the only just, fair and objective platform I can resort to,” said Phiyega. “All I want to do is for the truth to come out.”

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) on Tuesday told Parliament it had handed over a dockets regarding Phiyega and other SAPS officers to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). If the NPA proceeds with the case, she will likely be charged with contravening section 6 of the Commissions Act. Under the law, anyone who appears at a commission of inquiry but fails to answer questions fully and satisfactorily or knowingly provides false evidence can be charged and subject to a fine or imprisonment.

The Marikana report was critical of police leadership for misleading the inquiry on when the decision was taken to disperse protesting miners. Police initially claimed the decision was taken on 16 August 2012 but documents revealed the decision was taken at an extraordinary meeting of the SAPS national management forum (NMF) the day before.

“The leadership of the police, on the highest level, appears to have taken the decision not to give the true version of how it came about that the ‘tactical option’ was implemented on the afternoon of 16 August and to conceal the fact that the plan to be implemented was hastily put together without [public order policing] inputs or evaluation,” read the Marikana report.

During the commission, the chairman, retired Judge Ian Farlam, said the NMF meeting appeared to have been kept secret and suggested Phiyega had not cooperated by keeping quiet about it.

“You’re now seriously stating we would be in error if we find SAPS didn’t cooperate?” Farlam asked Phiyega during the commission regarding her previous failure to tell the inquiry about the NMF meeting.

Phiyega also faces an inquiry into her fitness to hold office, established by the president who was following a recommendation in the Marikana report.

A board established by Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko has already found Phiyega committed misconduct for decisions related to human resources while Parliament’s police committee said an inquiry should also look into her role in a meeting of police leaders who later publicly backed her while she was being criticised following the release of the Marikana report.

On Wednesday, Phiyega argued these and other criticism amounted to a witch hunt meant to derail her preparations before the inquiry begins. She questioned the timing of IPID’s announcement and said she hadn’t been asked to give a statement and only heard about the charges in the media. She said she and other police leaders were being “aggressively driven out of the SAPS” or made redundant.

“The undignified haste to announce my imminent charging smacks of a sustained and concerted effort by the people and entities in the police ministry to continue with the relentless campaign that seeks to harass, slander and vilify me,” Phiyega said. She claimed her rights were being violated in an attempt to “clutter” the lead-up to the inquiry into her fitness to hold office.

As the fallout from the Marikana Commission of Inquiry continues, Phiyega isn’t the only SAPS official likely to face criminal charges. A case against Brigadier Ledile Malahlela is likely to proceed for his role in the files containing the minutes to the NMF meeting going missing, as is a case against General Ganasen Naidoo for his role during the Marikana operation. Former North West Police Commissioner will likely also face charges for her role at the commission. Other individuals could also face charges.

Investigations into other officers who may be culpable at Marikana have been stalled, IPID said on Wednesday, by the SAPS’s refusal to allow independent ballistic experts to use their facilities, more advanced than those the independent analysts have access to. In the Marikana report, it was recommended investigators, including independent forensic analysts, assess all evidence to ascertain whether police or striking miners should be charged for the 44 deaths that occurred over a week. DM

Photo: Rustenburg, North West, South Africa. 2013, April 5. The Farlam Commission into the Marikana Massacre sitting in Rustenburg, with Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega being questioned. Photo Greg Marinovich.


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