Durban - After repeated calls for a new national police commissioner to be appointed, President Jacob Zuma announced on Wednesday that General Khehla John Sithole would be the new incumbent.
Sithole, 53, was promoted from the position of divisional commissioner for protection and security services in the SAPS.
While relatively little is known about him, Sithole is a career cop and the first to fill the post of national commissioner since George Fivaz, whose tenure ended in 2000.
According to the SAPS website, he was born in Standerton, Mpumalanga, and matriculated from Makhosana High School in KwaNdebele in 1984.
He joined the SAPS as a student constable in 1986, and his initial deployment was to human resource development, where he was head of support services.
Sithole rose through the ranks to be appointed as an assistant commissioner in Mpumalanga in 2000.
He went on to serve in the same position in the Northern Cape and the Free State, before being appointed as the provincial commissioner of the Free State in 2011, and the national deputy commissioner of policing operations in 2013.
Sithole’s appointment as national commissioner comes in the wake of opposition parties and crime experts earlier this month linking the leadership vacuum in the SAPS to a rise in violent crime.
Former commissioner Kgomotso Phahlane was suspended in June, amid allegations of corruption related to an Independent Police Investigative Directorate probe into the source of the R8 million which his house and fleet of cars cost.
Lieutenant-General Lesetja Mothiba had been acting in the position since.
News of Sithole’s appointment has been met with mixed reactions, though.
Former brigadier Simon Madonsela worked under Sithole in Mpumalanga from 1990 to 2000 .
He described Sithole as a “brilliant” policeman.
“He’s a very, very good policeman with a lot of experience,” Madonsela said.
He said Sithole was a career cop who was well-liked by his colleagues and had worked his way up through the ranks
“He knows the work and he’s diligent,” he said. “He’s a respectable man of integrity.”
IFP MP Narend Singh said the party welcomed the appointment and believed appointing “one of their own” could lead to improved morale within the police service.
Singh said the appointment would bring much-needed stability and leadership.
The Portfolio Committee on Police was also pleased with the news.
“The committee has, for a while, called for the appointment of a competent accounting officer with the energy, strategic vision and innovative plans to fight crime and corruption,” chairperson Francois Beukman said.
His committee had interacted with Sithole, it said, and was of the view that he had “the necessary technical and policing expertise to take the police forward".
The Institute for Security Studies says it welcomes the appointment of an experienced police officer as the new national police commissioner.
"Lt-General Khehla Sithole has a difficult task ahead of him to professionalise the South African Police Service (SAPS) and tackle serious violent crime that is plaguing South Africa at the moment," ISS said in a statement on Thursday.
"Sithole has the kind of track record that should be required of national police commissioner candidates and currently there are no allegations that suggest he lacks the integrity, skills or expertise for the powerful post of SAPS national commissioner."
However, ISS said together with Corruption Watch they have been calling for stricter criteria and a transparent appointment process, as laid out by the National Development Plan.
“While we welcome an experienced police officer to lead the SAPS, the fact that we do not have the benefit of a rigorous appointment process leaves South Africans are at the mercy of President Jacob Zuma’s judgement – for which the track record is not great,” said Gareth Newham, head of justice and violence prevention at the ISS.
“South Africans will once again find out through experience whether their new police chief has the qualities required to lead and protect – a process which has cost the country dearly for the last decade.”
The ISS said Sithole’s first test will be how he tackles rogue elements within the police who are bringing the institution into disrepute.
"Urgent priorities will be to start cleaning out the upper echelons of the SAPS of people who have been irregularly appointed or who need to respond to evidence of serious misconduct and criminality," ISS said.
"A key indicator of whether this is happening or not is whether he ensures an independent disciplinary inquiry is completed against disgraced Lt-General Richard Mdluli as a matter of serious urgency."
But DA MP Zakhele Mbhele was less enthusiastic about Sithole’s appointment.
“While we welcome that the SAPS finally has stable leadership in the form of a permanent national police commissioner, we do not believe that General Sithole is the best candidate to turn the SAPS around into a professional and effective police service to tackle and reduce crime,” Mbhele said.
He said Sithole was “an improvement from his predecessor” because he was a career officer.
“But we are not convinced that he has the backbone to resist political pressure on the SAPS, because it was during his tenure as divisional commissioner of protection and security services that the former AU chairperson, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, was granted the use of the Presidential Protection Service without merit or grounds,” Mbhele said.
The party was also “disappointed” that the appointment process had not been “transparent and credible", and would be submitting parliamentary questions to the president to ascertain who the other shortlisted candidates were and what qualifications they possessed.
The Mercury and ANA