There are fears that the departure of Sindisiwe Chikunga as the chairperson of the National Assembly’s police oversight committee will rob the country of an independent and competent politician.
The Democratic Alliance’s spokesperson on police, Dianne Kohler Barnard, said this week that “we have been left rudderless” after Chikunga was appointed deputy minister of transport by President Jacob Zuma.
“She was the best person in the ANC for the job, and now she is gone. They won’t put anyone else in that role who does not belong to the ANC. There is no deputy, and her promotion takes effect immediately.
“With all the factional battles raging in the police, where does that leave us now?”
Chikunga has received plaudits from MPs who worked with her on the police portfolio committee, especially since she began publicly asking uncomfortable questions about the turmoil in the police service.
State of affairs
During a parliamentary appearance by former acting police commissioner Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi, who was present for a briefing on the police’s strategic plans for 2012/2013 two months ago, Chikunga asked him which members of his delegation she could trust.
“The head of crime intelligence – our hope in fighting crime in this country – is allegedly involved in serious misconduct. What is the feeling … when the most senior people in the police are suspected of being involved in criminal conduct like this?” she asked Mkhwanazi.
What was such a state of affairs supposed to mean? Chikunga continued. “Who is sitting in front of this portfolio committee? Who can we trust? Who are you? Can you define yourself to this portfolio committee so that we know?”
Later, at another meeting of the police portfolio committee, she spoke about a letter she had received from Mkhwanazi after she had addressed him in Parliament, although she stopped short of saying what had been relayed to her in the letter.
Instead, the committee took the decision to call Mkhwanazi back to explain the issue around the suspension of crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli.
By Wednesday this week, the police portfolio committee was sitting again, this time with ANC MP Annelize van Wyk acting as chairperson. Told that there were fears the committee would be left “rudderless”, she said that was not the case.
“I am just standing in until a new chairperson is appointed,” she said. “I don’t know how much rudder I will have, but I am standing in.”
The confrontational stance of the committee in dealing with the escalating divisions in police ranks, especially crime intelligence, has been diluted by the unexpected departure of Chikunga.
This emerged after Van Wyk said that Mkhwanazi would no longer be appearing before the committee on Friday to brief it on the suspension of Mdluli.
“Police management will be meeting with the new national police commissioner on Friday. So we have postponed his appearance before us,” said Van Wyk. “We want to let the new police commissioner get up to speed before the South African Police Service briefing on Richard Mdluli takes place.”