Editorial: Riah vaya? A cautious welcome for SA's new top cop
- Mthethwa defends top cop Phiyega's appointment
- Unmasking SA's new top cop: Who is Mangwashi Phiyega?
- Measuring and rewarding excellence in public service
Given the disasters that have attended many of his previous appointments to key state positions, President Jacob Zuma’s appointment of Mangwashi Victoria (“Riah”) Phiyega to replace Bheki Cele as police commissioner must be welcomed – but somewhat cautiously.
Phiyega’s background as Transnet group executive and her work in the presidential committee reviewing state-owned enterprises have given her a reputation as a highly effective administrator. We welcome the appointment of someone with such an impressive record in administration.
It may be that such a figure is precisely what is needed at the fractured South African Police Service (SAPS), which is marred by widespread corruption and a tendency towards brutality. If Phiyega can be seen as a neutral leader, above the inner factions of the service, she has some hope of pulling the SAPS together, cleaning it up, improving its efficiency and removing it from the poisonous power plays in which key office-bearers such as Richard Mdluli have been involved.
At the same time, these are precisely the problems that could hobble her attempts to reform the service. Phiyega is not a policewoman or a “career cop”, which means she may have a hard time stamping her authority on the SAPS. Unless she can take a strong line with the Mdlulis of the service, she could find the same policemen running rings around her.
This is ultimately a political problem. It is to be hoped that Phiyega is not seen as merely a technocrat, there to help out with the budget spreadsheet and other administrative matters, and that she will get fully involved in strategic and operational matters. If she is a mere technocratic figurehead, it would surely mean more of the factional and political agendas pursued by her juniors, in collaboration with politicians who have been known to meddle in the department. Without the full support of her superiors, including Zuma himself, and a determined political will, Phiyega will fail.
The president also announced a Cabinet reshuffle this week. Its full implications will, of course, take time to become apparent. It is still unclear whether the two previous Cabinet reshuffles carried out by Zuma have had any meaningful effect on South Africa’s overall governmental performance.
It may be that, like so much else in South Africa’s power politics, this reshuffle has more to do with Zuma’s desire for a second presidential term than with the macropolitics of South Africa. His elevation of ANC Youth League leader Mdudzi Manana to the deputy ministership of the higher-education portfolio is probably a decision made with an eye on Mangaung.
Reshuffling his Cabinet does make Zuma look like as a strong leader who is willing to take difficult decisions, and his redeployments may allay the fears of some who are concerned about lack of leadership and coherent policy in particular portfolios. The removal of Sbu Ndebele and Jeremy Cronin from the transport ministry is probably a sign of unhappiness about how they have dealt with the e-tolling debacle, yet that tricky matter has yet to be resolved.
We can, at least, welcome the removal of Lindiwe Sisulu from the defence ministry. We hope that what looks like a demotion – to public service and administration – will be a salutary lesson for her. In her time as defence minister, Sisulu showed herself to be arrogant, defiant of parliamentary processes, and distinctly resistant to the principles of accountability that are supposed to be embedded in our democracy.
She will have to use her vaunted toughness in the negotiations on wages for state workers now looming. We wish her well.