Why Mthethwa and Phiyega must go

Douglas Gibson says it is time to find a police professional to run the SAPS

Riah Phiyega has failed. She must go. No doubt she has a multi-million Rand contract. The government should just pay her out and be done with it. And her minister, Nathi Mthetwa and his deputy should do the honourable thing and resign.

On 14 June last year, under the headline ‘Awkward task ahead' The Citizen published a piece in which I said we could not afford another failed police commissioner. I questioned whether a manager like Ms Phiyega was up to the job of fighting crime. She knew nothing about policing and I questioned whether there was not even one senior professional policeman with the necessary qualities, police experience and authority who could have been appointed.

The lady is the third failed police commissioner in a row. Her predecessors, ‘General' Cele and Commissioner Selebi were morally challenged politicians. She is not. But she is simply not the person to demand and receive the respect of the 160,000 policemen she must command. Is it any wonder that the morale and the discipline and consequently the reputation of the SAPS is lower than it has ever been?

Crime in South Africa is at a frighteningly high level. Ordinary citizens, both black and white (Mr Henke Pistorius notwithstanding) do not feel safe and do not believe the police can or will protect them. A basic duty of the state is to protect all its citizens and if it fails in this essential task because the police force is not up to its job, then the Rule of law is in grave peril.

Some people have complained about the fact that the police now again are ‘militarised' in that the rank structure has reverted to generals, brigadiers, colonels and so forth. I would not object to this if discipline and morale started improving. Regrettably, I see no sign of this. Quite the reverse.

There are tens of thousands of good and loyal policemen of all ranks who do their stuff for South Africa, but there are also many - too many - who are incompetent, untrained or inadequately trained and depressingly ill-equipped to fill the posts they occupy for reasons other than their merit. That description perfectly fits General Phiyega. And that is why she has failed and needs to be replaced.

Minister Mthetwa appointed General Phiyega. He is responsible for this failed commissioner and failing SAPS. The situation has deteriorated shockingly under his watch and that of his deputy minister, Ms Maggie Sotyu. Competence cannot have been the reason for her appointment.

If the minister fails, the buck passes to President Zuma. He decides finally who serves as police commissioner and who serves in the cabinet. Their failure reflects on him. There is only one way to rectify this. The president must get rid of those who need to go - even if he has to do it nicely and give them other posts.

Then he must find a professional in the senior ranks of the police who is honest and straightforward, with a successful record as a crime-fighter and as a leader. Then appoint that person and support him all the way as he puts right what is wrong.

Douglas Gibson is former Opposition Chief Whip and Ambassador to Thailand. He can be followed on Twitter @dhmgibson

This article first appeared in The Citizen.

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