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Unmasking SA’s new top cop: Who is Mangwashi Phiyega?

Bheki Cele has been sacked from his position as national police commissioner. President Jacob Zuma announced Cele’s firing at a hastily convened press conference on Tuesday afternoon where he named Mangwashi Victoria “Riah” Phiyega as Cele’s replacement.

“It is my pleasure to announce the new national police commissioner today who takes office with immediate effect,” he said.

Phiyega is currently chairperson of the presidential review committee on state owned enterprises and deputy chairperson of the independent commission on the remuneration of office bearers. She will be the first woman to hold the post of national police commissioner.

Phiyega told the Mail & Guardian she was excited about her appointment.

‘I am deeply humbled by this vote of confidence and I look forward to serving with dignity and humility’ she said.

Despite holding a number of high profile positions with corporates, parastatals and NGOs, Phiyega has no policing experience and is sure to come under fire for this.

Security experts have long decried the fact that neither of the countries past two police commissioners – Cele and convicted fraudster Jackie Selebi – have come from within the ranks of the police force.

According to the presidency, Phiyega is a past Absa Group executive for corporate affairs.

She chaired the bank’s AllPay boards for Gauteng and the Eastern Cape, was a board member of Absa Actuaries and a trustee of the Absa Foundation.

She spent a number of years at Transnet, where she occupied a range of positions in different divisions. She was group executive corporate affairs, a member of the executive committee, and an attending member of the board.

It’s rumoured that her 2009 departure from Absa, where she served as head of corporate affairs, was linked to her difficult relationship with the bank’s chief executive Maria Ramos. Phiyega was said to be one of a group of Transnet executives ousted when Ramos took over as chief executive at the parastatal in 2004.

Prior to her time at Transnet, Phiyega served as general manager for ports and corporate affairs at the National Ports Authority. She has also chaired the national welfare forum, acted as a commissioner for the Road Accident Fund, and was a board member of the 2010 World Cup bid committee.

Phiyega was born in Polokwane. She holds an MA in Social Sciences from the University of Johannesburg and a post graduate diploma in business administration from the University of Wales, and has completed programmes in management and business leadership programmes at the University of Singapore and the prestigious Wharton Business School in Pensylvania.

She began her professional career as a social worker and branch manager at Pretoria Child Welfare and later served as the director of the National Council of Child Welfare.

Phiyega is a member of the International Women’s Forum of South Africa, which identifies her as “a coach and mentor” linked to various organisations.

Phiyega was featured in the M&G 2011 Book of South African Women. In an essay she penned for the publication, she quoted Jamaican university professor Pat Morgan, who said: “The 21st century woman embodies the hopes of her nation, knows the history of her people, exposes injustice and comforts the poor and the unemployed.” 

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Faranaaz Parker
Faranaaz Parker is a reporter for the Mail & Guardian. She writes on everything from pop science to public health, and believes South Africa needs carbon taxes and more raging feminists. When she isn't instagramming pictures of her toddler or obsessively checking her Twitter, she plays third-person shooters on Xbox Live.

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