Embattled Phiyega asks if we're having a 'veiled gender debate'

Riah Phiyega said her predecessors, Bheki Cele and Jackie Selebi, had never received the same harrowing attention during their tenure. (Gallo)

Riah Phiyega said her predecessors, Bheki Cele and Jackie Selebi, had never received the same harrowing attention during their tenure. (Gallo)

"Why, when Phiyega comes it becomes a huge debate? The president can appoint a man or a woman to control and manage the organisation and I had the requisite skills," she was quoted as saying in the Sunday Times.

"Are we having a veiled gender debate? What is the discomfort? You can feel that there is a sense of discomfort but what is it ... I'm trying to unmask the discomfort."

Phiyega said her predecessors, Bheki Cele and Jackie Selebi, had never received the same harrowing attention during their tenure.

"In the 100 years of the history of the police they introduce a woman. Is that a challenge? I don't know, I don't have the answer."

Phiyega has come under the spotlight in recent months after several cases of police brutality.

In Marikana, North West, 34 striking miners were shot dead by police on August 16 last year.
Phiyega testified before the Farlam commission of inquiry, which is investigating the shooting, on Thursday. She is scheduled to appear before it again this week.

On February 26 Mozambican taxi driver Mido Macia was dragged behind a police van in Daveyton and later died in police cells. Nine officers allegedly involved in the dragging and his death are facing charges in court.

This week, a North West policeman was arrested for allegedly dragging a court interpreter with his van in Setlopo village.

Phiyega told the inquiry on Thursday that the shooting at Marikana was regrettable.

"The events at Marikana in August 2012 are of concern to me as well. The protracted and ever-increasing violent protest at Marikana, which culminated in the catastrophic and unprecedented loss of life, is to me regrettable."

Phiyega said the North West police commissioner called her on August 13 and said a "situation had developed" at the Marikana mine, where four people, including two security guards, had died.

"This necessitated the deployment of more police officers to keep the peace."

'Sufficiently grave' deaths

Phiyega said she was advised that "violence had escalated" and had resulted in the deaths of five people, including two police officers. The nine deaths were "sufficiently grave" to cause her to go to Marikana on the same day, the commission heard.

Accompanied by the Gauteng police commissioner, she arrived in Marikana at 6pm and was briefed by the provincial police about the protests. They went to the offices of Lonmin and met a mine delegation.

"The mine management informed the South African Police Service delegation that there were ongoing clashes between the members of two labour unions, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union and the National Union of Mineworkers," she said.

"The management further stated that the protesters were not their employees and are unknown to them and that, as such, Lonmin found no reason to negotiate with what they referred to as faceless people."

Phiyega instructed the North West commissioner to continue efforts to "bring competing unions to the negotiating table" to end the violence.

Phiyega said that in operations from 2009 to 2012, the police had handled 33 521 public order incidents, of which 3 195 were not peaceful.

"The police provide services that are underpinned by tested structure, management and strategies in law enforcement and public order policing," Phiyega said.

"The events at Marikana have no precedent in the history of our organisation in democratic South Africa." - Sapa

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