(File image) South African President Jacob Zuma. Photo: Bongiwe Mchunu

Pretoria - President Jacob Zuma dismissed General Bheki Cele as national police chief on Tuesday, and made several changes to the national executive.

He told reporters at the Union Buildings in Pretoria he had decided “to release General Cele from his duties”.

The Cabinet reshuffle he announced saw Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele being moved to the correctional services portfolio. He was replaced by former public enterprises deputy minister Ben Martins.

Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu would now run public service and administration, replacing Roy Padayachie who died last month.

Sisulu was succeeded by Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.

Zuma said Cele's dismissal was prompted by a recommendation by the board of inquiry, led by retired Free State judge Jake Moloi, which Zuma had set up to probe allegations levelled against the tough-talking Cele.

“Having thoroughly considered the report of the board, and applied my mind thereto, I have decided to release General Cele from his duties.”

Zuma said the board presented him a report on its findings on May 20. Both the reports of Public Protector Thuli Madonsela and the Moloi inquiry revealed “administrative deficiencies” in Cele’s conduct as the police's accounting officer.

“The board has found General Cele to be unfit for office and has recommended his removal from office in terms of the provisions of section 8(6)(b)(v) of the South African Police Service Act No. 68 of 1995,” said Zuma.

The Moloi-led inquiry was mandated to establish whether Cele had acted corruptly, dishonestly, or with an undeclared conflict of interest in relation to two police lease deals signed with controversial property mogul Roux Shabangu - one for a building in Pretoria, another for a building in Durban.

Last year, Madonsela found Cele's involvement in deals to acquire new police headquarters was “improper, unlawful, and amounted to maladministration”.

On Tuesday, Zuma began by outlining a number of Cele’s successes during his tenure as police commissioner, following his appointment in 2009.

“Leading from the front, he brought much-needed passion, energy, expertise and focus that boosted the morale of the police, leading to improved productivity and a visible reduction in crime levels,” Zuma said.

The president announced that Mangwashi Victoria (Riah) Phiyega had been appointed South Africa's first woman police commissioner.

“Ms Phiyega brings a wealth of experience as a senior executive who understands the responsibility of government in the fight against crime and the duties imposed in dealing with state assets.”

Phiyega currently chairs the presidential state-owned enterprises review committee and is a director at Tsa Rona Investments. The Polokwane-born business executive previously held positions in the corporate sector, including Absa. Prior to that, she served on the boards of Transnet and the Port Management Association of Eastern and Southern Africa.

Phiyega has several tertiary qualifications in business management and social work.

On the Cabinet reshuffle, Zuma also appointed several deputy ministers.

Sindisiwe Chikunga was appointed to the transport department whilst Gratitude Magwanishe would be the new public enterprises deputy minister.

Jeremy Cronin would be the new public works deputy minister, Hlengiwe Mkhize deputy minister for economic development, and Mduduzi Manana the new deputy minister for higher education.

The African National Congress said Phiyega's experience would be an asset in the battle against corruption in the police. Opposition parties however criticised her lack of experience.

The Democratic Alliance saw the changes announced by Zuma as a way to strengthen his political position ahead of the ANC's elective conference.

“The president’s announcement of a significant reshuffle of his Cabinet, and the appointment of a new police commissioner, reveals a president desperate to shore up support ahead of the ANC’s Mangaung elective conference,” DA leader Helen Zille said. - Sapa