It's not easy being the man everyone loves to blame - especially at a high school reunion 35 years after matriculating. When outgoing police commissioner George Fivaz arrived at his school reunion, he felt like Rip van Winkle. Everyone knew him and had followed his career - but he hardly recognised anyone from his school days.

A woman he couldn't remember still blames him for a hiding she got when he borrowed her book and left it at home when she needed it.

His classmates told him he had been a naughty boy, a practical joker and a chatterbox - but he only remembers having been "more serious".

However, behind closed doors, George Fivaz is witty, relaxed and an interesting conversationalist with considered opinions.

Fivaz - who hands over to Jackie Selebi in January - is likely to be remembered as the last white South African police commissioner and possibly the last one who rose through the ranks.

He is a policeman to the core and believes that policing is a noble career. But he isn't sorry that his time at the helm is up.

"I am sick and tired of these committees, demanding to know why we are not transformed and why we are sitting here with white faces," Fivaz said.

He added that he and Safety and Security Minister Steve Tshwete had an excellent working relationship and that when they reached the stage where they were discussing Fivaz's future, it was Fivaz who suggested that he retire and a black commissioner take his place.

"He said I should stay on. I said I was willing to help but that staying would be wrong," Fivaz recalled. "It is in the best interests of the police to have a black commissioner - only then will people believe in the transformation of the police."

However, having a civilian commissioner wasn't Fivaz's suggestion. "The police have their own subculture and often they don't feel right reporting to civilians," he said.

"That man Jackie" would have to lean very heavily on the existing command structures and also had to be able to relate to police officers at grassroots. "He must become a policeman, not just be a manager," Fivaz said. "You are as good in this position as your support base. This ship is too big to steer on your own."

On the day Fivaz's successor was announced, parliament's public accounts committee accused him and SAPS chief executive officer Meyer Kahn of severe mismanagement of funds.

"It was totally unfair and frustrating. There were many remarks that were totally uncalled for and were the biggest load of rubbish," Fivaz said, fuming with rage. "It's absurd to hear them say the police's financial situation is worse than it was two years ago when Meyer Kahn joined us. It's not by coincidence that he made millions in business."

The country is constantly pointing fingers at Fivaz for not making changes in the SAPS. He countered that there had been many changes - it was just that, "like with rugby, people have very short memories".

"We can't sit back and be complacent as there is still 10 years until transformation is complete, but we have made progress."

Fivaz cited the improved relationship between the community and policemen, improved scientific investigations, and policemen being far more sensitive to human rights.

He explained that 11 police forces had been combined into one. This process had mostly been successful, despite the SAPS inheriting "30 000 illiterate policemen".

"We have also, believe it or not, stabilised crime," Fivaz claimed. "Three years ago, we were extremely concerned that crime would take over the government and total anarchy and chaos would result. It could have happened as we have all the elements to create it, with joblessness and poverty."

He said many major crime problems were slowly decreasing, though violent crimes were extremely worrying. "We are not on top of crime - but are working hard at it. But what about other departments and communities who provide lucrative markets for criminals' goods?"

Fivaz added there was an unfair perception that all policemen were demoralised and corrupt. "Morale may be low in some areas but, when you see the progress in investigations in others, you see officers - who see their colleagues killed, constantly embarrassed in public and the doormats of the nation - working with a smile and dedication."

Over the years, he had realised that, for policemen to be effective, they needed an "off switch" so that, despite all they saw and experienced, they could switch off psychologically afterwards.

Fivaz's oldest son couldn't do that. "He is softly spoken and a soft person. He came to me to say he didn't want to remain in the police any longer and he left at the end of last year," said Fivaz. "You can't pressure anyone to stay - you have to have a special fibre and feeling for the job."

Fivaz has it, turning down many opportunities over the years to leave the SAPS.

But now that his days are numbered, he is considering going on to become an international police consultant. As for becoming the head of police in Northern Ireland, Fivaz is still waiting to be approached with an offer.

"I will find something. I am of the opinion that there are so many opportunities - police in the world are in a state of flux and lots of them need advice, assessment and oversight."

Until he retires, he has little time to spend with his family. Outside of the SAPS, he says, he is "a very dull person". He has a "small investment in the bush on the other side of Warmbaths", where he retreats whenever he has any spare time. "There it's just me, the bush, some kudus, impalas, zebras and open skies."

You won't find this top cop at the movies. "I haven't been for the last 35 years. I can sit and watch for half an hour and then I get nervous. It's just people playing around and it's not applicable to real life."

But watching rugby - with beer and braaivleis - for hours is different. He even watched last weekend's win against England again to see just how "brilliantly strategic Jannie and the Boks' game was".