Nine provincial commissioners who last week put their jobs on the line when they came out publicly in support of national police commissioner Riah Phiyega have been advised to leave politics to the politicians and stick to their day jobs.
The provincial commissioners appeared before the police committee in Parliament on Wednesday and were forced to apologise to the president, the country and the committee, and retract the statement they issued last week expressing concern about the negative attitude towards Phiyega.
The Farlam commission of inquiry, set up to investigate the Marikana massacre in 2012, recommended in its report released last month that the national commissioner face an inquiry into her fitness to hold office. Phiyega was given until July 31 to submit her reasons in writing to the president as to why she should not face an inquiry. The presidency said it had received her response just before 11pm on July 31.
It said President Jacob Zuma would study the response to determine if any intervention was warranted and the nature of such intervention, it said.
Facing a roomful of hostile members of Parliament, the commissioners said the need to bring stability to the South African Police Service (SAPS) had driven their statement.
Made to apologise
The commissioners, excluding Lieutenant-General Mmamonnye Ngobeni from KwaZulu-Natal, who was not present, were each made to apologise and promise that it would not reoccur.
The commissioners reluctantly expressed regret over the storm their collective statement had caused and some grudgingly retracted the statement.
The commissioners issued a collective statement last week expressing serious concern over what they termed an unfair and negative attitude towards Phiyega.
They said they had “noticed a tendency to reduce everything, especially negative issues relating to policing, to the person of the national commissioner, as if the SAPS is a one-person show”.
“It is therefore appropriate that the board publicly declares its full support for General Phiyega, and fully endorses her efforts in turning around the SAPS. We are compelled to take this stance as some unnamed sources are misinforming the media, alleging that we are unhappy with the national commissioner,” read the statement.
United in condemnation
MPs from all parties were united in their condemnation of the statement, which they said undermined the process that is already under way to determine Phiyega’s fitness for office.
Deputy national commissioner of corporate services Lieutenant General Nobubele Mbekela said the statement, which was discussed and agreed on at a board of commissioners meeting Phiyega chaired in July, was to correct the misinformation on dysfunctionality in the police service.
“The intention of the statement was to say to the members that SAPS remains stable. SAPS remains committed,” she said.
While Phiyega chaired the meeting, she did not participate in the discussions about the statement and had said she felt conflicted by the discussion, according to the commissioners.
‘Do you really think we are idiots’
MPs grilled police spokesperson General Solomon Makgale as to who approved the decision to release the statement.
Freedom Front Plus MP Pieter Groenewald demanded the name of the person.
“Somebody, a human being, instructed you. Please can we get the name of that human being? It’s as simple as that,” he said.
Makgale said only that there “was a discussion in the BOC meeting, and the members of the BOC took a decision that a statement must be issued”.
But MPs were unimpressed and accused the commissioners of lying to the committee.
Groenewald said the provincial leaders were insulting the members. “Do you really think we are idiots?” he asked.
‘Stop playing games’
ANC MP Livhuhani Mabija said: “We are even getting confused because you are dribbling us. We are not here to be dribbled. Can you stop playing games please.”
The MPs demanded to see a copy of the minutes of the meeting, which the commissioners could not produce, as well as a transcript of the recording.
Mabija said it sounded as though the provincial heads were reciting poetry as they were all saying the same thing.
Police deputy minister Maggie Sotyu apologised to the committee on behalf of the ministry and the leadership of the police.
“All these things happened under our stewardship. I agree with you when you say we must apologise to the president and the nation. Because we started by pre-empting the president as we don’t know what route he is going to take [in the investigation].”
Next week, the committee will call Ngobeni to the committee to answer for her part in the fracas.