By Wilma den Hartigh
South Africa’s new national police commissioner, General Magwashi Victoria Phiyega, addressed members of the media for the first time yesterday, 14 June, at a press conference in Pretoria.
Phiyega’s appointment, announced by President Jacob Zuma earlier this week on Tuesday, came as a surprise as she is not from within the ranks of police, raising concerns about her lack of experience.
At the media briefing she asked South Africans for time to prove that she is up to the task.
“Judge me on my performance,” she said. “I do want to say to South Africa, give me a chance. I do have something to offer.”
She also dismissed scepticism about her ability to lead the police service.
“I have never been a police officer, but you don’t have to be a drunkard to own a bottle store,” she said.
“Judge me in 12 months time if I have a very poor capacity to learn.”
Corruption and political interference
There is optimism that Phiyega’s background in business and administration equips her with the ability to fight corruption within and beyond the police.
Phiyega told the media that corruption, both internal and external, as well as restoring the integrity of the police, are two important issues on her agenda.
“As a country there is a common sense of urgency to fight corruption in all areas, whether in the private or public sector,” she said. “This is an ill that requires serious penicillin.”
The new commissioner didn’t want to comment immediately on her plans to deal with recent controversies involving the police, but she assured South Africans that she intends to deal decisively with corruption.
Phiyega is meeting with police management today, 15 June, to familiarise herself with her new duties and the tasks at hand, after which she intends to get straight into the job.
“I commit to report back on progress made,” she said.
In an interview with Talk Radio 702, she said it is important to remove corrupt officials from the police force, but she emphasised that this is a process and not an event.
“As and when bad apples appear, we should be able to remove them,” Phiyega said.
“Among the 200 000 men and women in the police there are many good people, but there are bad apples,” she said.
The police boss also said she intends to clear up confusion about the issue of political involvement and interference in the police.
“We need to look if there is any confusion between involvement and interference and debate this,” she said.
She said the jury is still out on the issue, and with more experience she will comment if political involvement is legitimate or amounts to unnecessary interference.
On the issue of party loyalty, she could not be drawn on her allegiance to any particular political party. She explained that such a label would only take away from her responsibility to serve in SAPS.
The new police chief responded cautiously to questions about abuse of the police slush fund, the Richard Mdluli case and former police head Bheki Cele.
She said there is a need to tighten internal controls and compliance, improve financial management and strengthen the administrative leg of the police service.
Phiyega said that she would not participate in any “character assassination” of the previous leadership. “I am not qualified to judge,” she said.
Restoring police integrity and pride
The new commissioner is adamant that there is a need to restore public confidence and pride in the police. “We need integrity in the work that we are performing,” she said.
In the interview with Talk Radio 702 she said there was a need to get back to basics. Police officers should focus on the core business of safety of the public, and serve with commitment and excellence, according to Phiyega.
“Speaking as an ordinary South African, if my life is in the hands of the police, I would hope to have men and women in blue that I would love to hug when I see them, because I trust them,” she said.
Phiyega recognised that the new position won’t be without challenges.
“I acknowledge the huge and overwhelming task that lies ahead of me as I join a team of great men and women in blue.”