Veteran policeman Dr Seswantsho Godfrey Lebeya has been around the block, several times – and last week he was named as the new head of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DCPI), or Hawks.

Photo © Godfrey Lebeya.

Lebeya is not only a distinguished former police officer with over 30 years of experience, but he has a doctorate in criminal law, specialising in organised crime, and is currently a respected advocate. Reaction to his appointment has been largely positive.

Corruption Watch and the Institute for Security Studies have been campaigning since July 2017 for the appointment of an experienced, knowledgeable person of integrity, who was selected on merit and not for political reasons.

Lebeya’s appointment welcomed

In 2015 Lebeya was one of the shortlisted candidates for the same post, but it was Berning Ntlemeza, who was not on the shortlist and was to be a disaster for the DCPI, who ultimately got the nod from then-minister Nathi Nhleko and his panel. Ntlemeza was removed in April 2017 by incoming police minister Fikile Mbalula, and was replaced in an acting capacity by Yolisa Matakata, who sat on the panel that had appointed Ntlemeza

Now, the news that Lebeya has deservedly got the top cop position was welcomed.

“The announcement on Thursday of the appointment of Advocate Seswantsho Godfrey Lebeya as head of the dangerously declawed DPCI has sent a ripple of fear through the WhatsApp group of former Zuma cronies, the people who have wreaked havoc in the criminal justice system,” wrote Marianne Thamm for Daily Maverick.

Johan Booysen, the former head of the KZN Hawks, told Daily Maverick that Lebeya’s appointment “is a good decision and well deserved”.

The South African National Civic Organisation welcomed Lebeya’s appointment, saying “The Hawks need a person of Lebeya’s calibre to reposition to it tackle the escalating violent crimes, including organised crime [and] cash-in-transit robberies that are turning our streets into war-zones, and intensify the fight against the scourge of corruption that is threatening the economy, service delivery, as well as development.”

Parliamentary police portfolio committee chairperson Francois Beukman said Lebeya was a good choice. “We believe he has the necessary qualifications and experience to lead the Hawks in a new era, where corruption-busting will be the number one priority.”

In November 2017, when Gen. Khehla Sithole was appointed as the national police commissioner, the South African Policing Union (Sapu) lamented the fact that Lebeya had not been chosen.

“We had hoped President Zuma would consider appointing either Lt-Gen. Godfrey Lebeya or Lt-Gen. [Leah] Mofomme, a policeman and a policewoman of great integrity who were chased away by the then national commissioner Riah Phiyega,” the union said in a statement at the time.

Now, Sapu has cause to predict “great success” for the Hawks with Lebeya at the helm. “General Lebeya is a man of great integrity. It is hard luck to those who thought they will capture the Hawks as it will be them who will be captured now,”said Sapu general secretary Oscar Skommere in a statement.

Fighting for his job

Lebeya was a candidate for the post of public protector in 2009, and last year was also one of the six preferred candidates for the post of inspector-general of intelligence.

In March 2014 Lebeya took the South African Police Service (Saps) and its commissioner at the time, Phiyega, to court when Saps gave him an ultimatum of transferring to a new Saps research institute (which had not even been established yet) or losing his position – after some three decades on the job. At the time he held the position of deputy national police commissioner of the crime detection unit.

His fellow deputy national police commissioner, Leah Mofomme, was also a victim of Phiyega’s machinations. Both opted not to accept the positions that were being forced upon them, and both were told by Phiyega that in that case, they had to leave the police service. Lebeya successfully challenged Phiyega’s move in court, and he and Saps reached a settlement in 2016.

Lebeya was also a witness in the murder trial of Richard Mdluli and worked on the investigation into his illegal activities.