Step aside: ‘I am black and proud’ says Phiyega

National Commissioner Riah Phiyega found herself in trouble again with the Police Committee in Parliament on Tuesday, when Democratic Alliance MP Dianne Kohler-Barnard revealed an SMS she had been sent by Phiyega last week.

In the SMS, Phiyega tells the MP that: “I am black, proud, capable. Get it clear, you can take nothing from me and eat your heart out. I am not made by you and cannot be undone by you.” Kohler-Barnard read out the number in a meeting with the committee, which rang unanswered. When the Mail & Guardian later called the number, it was answered by a man who said it belonged to Phiyega and said she was unavailable.

An SMS sent by National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega to a DA MP. 

Kohler Barnard said she found it appalling that the police commissioner would choose to send her a personal message when she was doing her job. “And she is failing to do her job. I ask that it becomes part of your investigation. I sense a threatning tone and I sense it all over. I thought we had left the days behind when, for example, prosecutors were snatched from their homes and disappeared for days. Or people tried to raid people’s offices. But it seems we have not. The fact that she would go to the effort to find my personal number and send me a message like that, then it means it’s time for change.”

National police spokesperson Solly Makgale confirmed that the SMS was sent by Phiyega.

“The SMS was indeed sent by General Phiyega and was not meant for public distribution by Ms Kohler-Barnard. “If Ms Kohler-Barnard feels threatened by a statement of self-affirmation then it is unfortunate. The message was certainly not intended as a threat and it is difficult to see how it could be interpreted as such. It is equally unfortunate that Ms Kohler-Barnard launched an unprovoked and unbecoming personal attack on the national commissioner during a television interview on ANN7 last week Friday,” he said.

‘Shook me down to the marrow’
MPs called for the message to be investigated, calling it a whispery message that could not be entertained.  The SMS raised the ire of ANC MP Livhuhani Mabija.  “If this message is really from her, where does she get the audacity to do that? And really, this shook me down to the marrow.”

Committee chairperson Buekman asked a reluctant Gauteng commissioner, Lesetja Mothiba, to check with Phiyega if she had sent the message and get back to the committee on Wednesday with a full report. When Mothiba asked the committee to send a formal letter to Phiyega instead, the chairperson instructed him to get it done.

Earlier in the committee meeting, another national commissioner supporter was forced to apologise for a statement she had sent out last month titled “Hands off Phiyega”.

Lieutenant General Lineo Ntshiea was rapped over the knuckles, accused of directing her statement to the president and forced to explain and apologise for her actions. This after eight provincial commissioners were last week forced to apologise to the president, the country, the committee and retract the statement they issued expressing concern over 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. She sent her reasons with an hour to spare.

President Zuma is studying the response to determine if any intervention was warranted and the nature of such intervention. Ntshiea said she had issued the statement to correct media reports of divisions and mutiny within the SAPS. While she apologised for how the statement was perceived, she did not fully retract it. She said she apologised that the statement she had issued created a misconception in the minds of police officials she was working with as well as the committee. “It is unfortunate, chairperson, that it was misunderstood and misinterpreted.”

Her partial apology led to ANC MP Maapi Molebatsi expressing serious displeasure with her and her conduct. “She is making me really mad right now.” She was reprimanded for stepping over her duties and acting as a spokesperson of the SAPS, with MPs calling her disrespectful. The committee will decide on a way forward regarding the SAPS statements and the SMS on Wednesday.

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