Newly appointed National Police Commissioner General Mangwashi “Riah” Phiyega has challenged critics of her appointment to judge her on her performance.
Phiyega faced the media for the first time on Thursday since being appointed by President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday, following the sacking of Bheki Cele as top cop.
She expressed her willingness to work with whomever accepted her as commissioner, including the SA Police Union, which has described her appointment as an insult.
The new top cop, who has no policing experience and boasts a CV with achievements mainly in the private sector and state-owned enterprises, said her lack of policing experience would not be a hindrance to her performing the tough task she faced.
“It is true that I have never been a police officer, but I want to say that you don’t need to be a drunkard to own a bottle store. I am willing to learn from those I’ll be working with. Judge me in 12 months whether I have poor capacity to learn.”
Phiyega faced questions on the challenges facing the SAPS management, with infighting and corruption allegations against officers, such as suspended crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli. But she avoided making any strong statement against the SAPS top brass.
She was due to be taken to her office for the first time on Thursday and was expected to meet the top management of the SAPS today.
She acknowledged there was corruption in the SAPS, but said this was a problem in all sectors of society. “There is a common sense of urgency in South Africa to fight corruption in all sectors, not just in the police. Fighting corruption is of course a priority… across all South African society,” she said.
One of her main priorities was to restore pride, confidence and integrity in the police. This was not an event but a journey.
Asked if she was concerned about the issue of political interference in the police, which the acting national commissioner raised in Parliament earlier this year, Phiyega said the merit of these concerns would have to be tested.
“We have to ask ourselves whether there is political involvement or political interference. I think we need to debate and talk about whether we are confused between (the two).
“As civil servants we are guided by the political side, which was elected.
“But we need to know when there is political involvement versus political interference. I’m saying ‘Let’s debate this’. With experience I will be able to give you an answer on this.”
Phiyega said she would not be drawn on many operational issues, asking for time to familiarise herself with the police environment.
However, she said she would pick up on the momentum that had been created in the police, including a tough approach to criminals.
“No criminals must feel comfortable in our country. They must know that citizens are not welcoming them here,” said Phiyega.
She dismissed any concerns or uncertainties about leading the SAPS as a woman, using the African saying that a woman can hold a knife by the sharp edge to protect her children.
Phiyega said she had heard Cele’s advice about working with and taking care of police officers on the ground, instead of working closely only with the generals.
She emphasised her willingness to learn and to bring her experience to the SAPS and improve its administrative arm.
Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa reiterated Phiyega’s call that she should be judged on her work and not on her previous experience.
“Last year, when I presented (Nhlanhla) Mkhwanazi as acting police commissioner, a career policeman, there were 101 views about why he should not have been appointed,” he said. “The commissioner must be judged according to her work. There’s never been an individual who could claim the success in this department. It’s the work of the team.”