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Immediate – and less than positive – reactions to the appointment of Riah Phiyega as ousted Bheki Cele’s replacement as police commissioner are understandable, but quite probably misplaced.
Attention falls on a complete lack of experience in policing, which, on the face of it, seems a deficiency too obvious to overlook. But is it, really?
The task she faces is an urgent one: restoring stability in an over-worked, under-rewarded and critical sector of the state She must also do her utmost to regain the public’s trust in the police and repair the credibility of the SAPS leadership on whom the public and those at the coalface of the fight against crime depend.
To achieve these things, Phiyega must provide clear and honest guidance to ensure that the senior echelons follow her in restoring a service that has been damaged by its own.
It will not be plain sailing, but nor is it an insurmountable challenge. It will require, in the first instance, sound, sensible management, and not political antics.
In these circumstances, it is probably a recommendation that Phiyega is an outsider not only unimpeded by loyalty to familiars – a perfectly natural dynamic – but also unrestrained by organisational orthodoxy, which can often be a sapping obstruction.
Phiyega has an impressive CV in business administration, and there’s every reason to believe that this is a better qualification than a rank – not least because she will have to seek advice from senior officers on matters she must necessarily be unfamiliar with, and weigh their counsel carefully.
Many applauded when the shoot-first-ask-questions-later Cele was appointed, arguing that tough tactics were overdue. We now know we did not need a strongman, a tough-talking street fighter.
We need someone who will support the cops in their difficult, dangerous work, keeping the attention and resources focused on effective policing.