NO TEARS FOR RIAH
Riah Phiyega has no one to blame for her current woes but herself. Her fault lines can be traced back to the first time she received that message from Mahlamba Ndlopfu in 2012, when she accepted the offer to be national police commissioner.
She must have known that her training, professional social work experience, and failed short stints at Absa and Transnet could not possibly have prepared her for the enormous task of steering an organisation as complex as the SA Police Service. Any virtuous person would have politely declined the offer by the president, saying: “Thanks, but no thanks, Mr President, I’m not nearly equipped for this task.”
But not our Phiyega. She sat there and agreed to perpetuate the farce, arrogantly declaring to the nation and the world that she “didn’t need to be a drunkard to run a bottle store”. This nonsensical analogy, broadcast in the presence of her grinning and chuckling (now former) police minister Nathi Mthethwa, was to become the reigning mantra of our embattled national commissioner.
True to her mantra, the first thing she did on landing at police HQ was dismantle command and control by completely sidelining – perhaps unlawfully so – four deputy national commissioners who, combined, had almost 100 years of experience, and appointed junior divisional commissioners to act in her absence.
In fact, she went ahead and chased these officers out and replaced them with the inept Nobubele Mbekela and Solomon Makgale, while neglecting the abundant wealth of expertise and knowledge that was crying out to be used. This extraordinary behaviour could only have been borne out of petty ignorance that fuelled her discomfort at being surrounded by experienced officers.
This is a national commissioner who flaunts the most basic of basics. This is a leader who hounded out acting crime intelligence head Chris Ngcobo, ostensibly because he didn’t have a matric certificate, but we knew that he was persecuted because of the investigation he was pursuing against suspended Western Cape Provincial Commissioner Arno Lamoer.
We now know that Phiyega even unlawfully tipped off Lamoer about the investigation. This is a national commissioner during whose reign, a bitter Lieutenant General Sean Tshabalala died under circumstances that are still a mystery. The truth of the matter is that, for some inexplicable reason, Phiyega harboured open disdain for the role and contribution of members of the police who had been integrated from our non-statutory forces. Not even former national commissioner George Fivaz had derailed the transformation project of the SA Police Service to the extent that she has.
This is a national commissioner who, unlike all her predecessors, should have brought such traits that are traditionally associated with femininity – gentleness, empathy and sensitivity. Yet she commanded the police resources to do what they did in Marikana – a situation that shocked and traumatised not only the next of kin of the deceased mine workers, but the entire nation.
The social worker in her failed to sympathise with the families of the deceased and with the entire traumatised nation, strangely and naively opting to reward and encourage wrong behaviour by commending the police and telling them that what they did – killing mine workers – represented the best of policing. Today, the nation must be thankful that just before she got suspended, she failed in her attempts to banish the current acting national commissioner to Limpopo when she embarked on her ill-informed restructuring process. This is the same Phiyega who is quick to point fingers and claim that her cohorts are being persecuted.
Today, Phiyega wants the nation to believe that she has a “revealing” story to tell the board of inquiry that will look into her fitness to hold office. It will be interesting to know if she plans to reveal to the inquiry that her infamous D-day decision led to the deaths of the mine workers in Marikana.
If inside talk is anything to go by, she is in for the shock of her life when those who were close enough to hear and to record her tomfooleries submit their testimonies, not only to the board of inquiry but in the many criminal matters that will follow.
Unfortunately, Phiyega has missed the window of opportunity to gracefully bow out. Maybe she will now acknowledge that you need a well-qualified business manager to run a bottle store. Maybe she will now acknowledge that she was never cut out for this thankless job.
Phiyega must be our worst national commissioner post-1994. She was also her own worst enemy.