Western Cape police commissioner Mzwandile Petros is set to replace Jackie Selebi as South Africa’s police boss.
The Mail & Guardian has established from sources close to senior police management that Petros, recently plagued by several high-profile controversies, is now seen in senior police and ANC circles as the sole candidate for appointment by President Jacob Zuma at the end of July.
Zuma extended Selebi’s contract by a month this week, but told him he would be out of the job by month-end.
After Selebi was charged with corruption, former president Thabo Mbeki extended his contract by 12 months from June 26 2008. He was put on extended leave pending trial.
After months of speculation, it has emerged that Zuma will opt for a policeman rather than an outsider. Selebi was foreign affairs director general when Mbeki appointed him commissioner in January 2000.
The M&G believes the ANC’s sub-committee on peace and stability, chaired by Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda, advised Zuma on Selebi’s replacement.
Petros’s appointment will surprise many in the policing sector who expected a more senior person to get the job. Deputy police commissioners Tim Williams, currently acting for Selebi, and Andre Pruis, security head for the 2010 World Cup, were mentioned as possible successors, as were assistant commissioners Gary Kruser, police training boss, and head of detectives Rayman Lalla.
The appointment of Petros (48) would be the second high-profile police posting from the Western Cape this year after former deputy provincial commissioner Anwa Dramat was appointed head of the Directorate for Priority Crimes Investigation.
Significantly, Petros, Dramat and Kruser served in Umkhonto weSizwe’s Western Cape intelligence wing.
Petros was appointed Western Cape police chief in 2003 after joining the SAPS in April 1995. His background is in crime intelligence — first as an intelligence operative and later as national trainer of the handlers’ course at the crime intelligence and detective academy in Pretoria.
In the Western Cape he initially served as commissioner for crime intelligence and detection.
A senior Western Cape policeman supportive of Petros this week lauded his efforts to decentralise the provincial police and invest resources and skills in “working-class stations”.
“More stations were built in previously disadvantaged areas during his tenure. People were significantly empowered, and the Western Cape was the only province where the child-protection units were kept intact.”
But Petros has clashed with Western Cape community safety minister Lennit Max, who accused him of allowing crime statistics at a number of police stations to be cooked.
Max said that more than 50 suspected rapists might escape prosecution because of a cover-up by Boland officers. He accused Petros of knowing about the manipulation since 2006, but doing nothing. Petros denied this.
Also embarrassing for Petros is the trial of former Goodwood station commissioner Siphiwo Hewana, who faces charges relating to alleged evidence-tampering in the drunken-driving case of ANC top dog Tony Yengeni.
Constable Jeremy Voskuil, on duty when Yengeni was arrested in 2007, testified in the Parow Regional Court that Hewana told him the arrest of Yengeni “was causing a lot of problems for everybody”. According to the Cape Argus, he testified that Hewana told him and colleague Charles Japhta that Yengeni was a former ANC cadre, like Petros and other senior officers, and allegedly said: “None of these people want Yengeni to go to jail.”
Voskuil said Hewana told him “it would be better” if the time of arrest was changed. They were also told to think about their families and futures.
Both he and Japhta testified that Hewana said the instruction to tamper with the docket came from Petros.
Their colleague, inspector Francis Lock, had testified that Hewana asked him whether Yengeni’s blood tests could be manipulated or destroyed. Hewana has not given evidence.
However, Petros was dealt his heaviest blow on September 1 last year when judges Kevin Swain and Chris Nicholson found his conduct in the Cape Town spy saga was unlawful.
The judgment torpedoed then-Western Cape premier Ebrahim Rasool’s attempt to expose the DA’s allegedly unlawful use of city council money to spy on rogue councillor Badih Chaaban, finding that the Erasmus Commission set up by Rasool was illegal and politically motivated.
A crucial part of Rasool’s claims against city mayor Helen Zille was based on “evidence” of wrongdoing provided by Petros. This was seized from the house of Philip du Toit, a former NIA operative who spied on Chaaban for a company under contract to the city.
Du Toit was arrested on September 20 2007 on suspicion of hijacking and Petros attended a “warrantless” search at his home. At Rasool’s request, Petros addressed the provincial cabinet on the evidence he had shown to Rasool.