New Gauteng police commissioner chides 'armchair critics'

Lieutenant General Lesetja Joel Mothiba. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

Lieutenant General Lesetja Joel Mothiba. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

Lieutenant General Lesetja Joel Mothiba, newly appointed provincial commissioner of the Gauteng police, says police officers are being criticised unfairly for their role in service delivery protests. 

“There are a lot of armchair critics, who say the police should have acted like this or like that, but only those who are there know what happens,” he told the Mail & Guardian on the sidelines of a press conference in Johannesburg on Wednesday.  

“Look at Marikana, for example. Two of our policemen, young rising stars, were brutally killed. They were chopped up.
But nobody is talking about them,” he said.  

National police commissioner General Riah Phiyega announced Mothiba’s appointment on Wednesday. He has been acting in the role since September 2013.  Mothiba’s appointment follows the brief occupation of the position by Lieutenant General Bethuel Zuma, who was fired hours after being appointed provincial commissioner when it emerged that he faced criminal charges. This followed the resignation of former provincial commissioner Mwandile Petros.

‘People don’t understand’
Mothiba’s first task is to meet with the newly elected Gauteng provincial government, he said, to establish working partnerships. He said the police would work as closely with communities as possible to educate them about the way the police work.  

“Sometimes people don’t understand how this democracy of ours works,” he said, adding that communities knew very little about how to follow up on police investigations that were taking too long, for example. 

Asked whether he thought police had used reasonable force when policing service delivery protests, Mothiba said it was difficult to say as each protest was different.  

“You have local police officers on the ground, and they will know those details. But it is a very difficult thing to police – you have community members who burn libraries and community halls.  

“People are always criticising the police for the way they act, but who is criticising the communities?” he asked. 

Mothiba said service delivery protests were on the rise and that he expected the police’s role in managing them to become increasingly difficult.  

‘Service delivery issues’
“That is why we need government to deal with these service delivery issues urgently, so that we can get back to doing what we are supposed to be doing, that is patrolling the streets and investigating crimes,” he said.  

With 30 years of experience in the police, Phiyega has already credited several high-profile police successes with Mothiba’s appointment. This includes the arrest of two members believed to be part of Gauteng’s notorious Blue Light Gang in Sandton on Saturday. The gang is thought to impersonate police, using blue lights on their vehicles, police uniforms and firearms, while conducting armed robberies.

Phiyega said police have also arrested two members of the South African National Defence Force for impersonating police with a view to robbing officials landing at Waterkloof Air Base in Pretoria.  

Before his appointment as acting provincial commissioner, Mothiba headed the police’s national visible policing unit. Prior to that, Mothiba was the commander of the Alexandra Police Station and spent six years at the helm of human resource development within the police service. He is studying towards a master’s degree in policing. 

Phiyega has announced that vetting will become permanent for all members of the South African Police Service in an effort to stamp out police corruption. She said members could be subjected to lifestyle audits and called on to show police management their financial records to ensure they are not earning extra money illegally.

Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans interned at the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley for three years before completing an internship at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane). She went on to work as a Mail & Guardian news reporter with areas of interest including crime, law, governance and the nexus between business and politics.  Read more from Sarah Evans

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