Accountability Monitor: Another national police commissioner to face the music

The police commissioner plays an important role in South Africa. If our police minister is akin to the chairman of the board, the police commissioner is the CEO; they run the actual ship. 

So it’s a real problem that the post has long been marked by corruption, infighting and plain incompetence. Several police commissioners have been suspended, for various reasons, from Jackie Selebi, to Bheki Cele (now the minister of police) and Riah Phiyega, who was suspended for her disastrous handling of the Marikana massacre. Whew. 😓 

Acting commissioners filled the role temporarily until Khehla Sitole was appointed in 2017 by President Jacob Zuma, amid cautious optimism – Sitole was the first “career cop” to be appointed as permanent national police commissioner since 1995! We desperately needed someone who understood the service and could reform it. But… Sitole has instead proven just as controversial as his predecessors. 

It’s a bit complicated and has to do with the improper purchase of spying devices, which were really a foil for laundering tens of millions of rands to buy votes at the 2017 ANC conference, where Cyril Ramaphosa narrowly beat Zuma’s faction. It’s like the plot of a bad heist movie so we won’t get into all the details, but essentially he’s been embroiled in a two-year legal wrangle over the whole thing which came to an end when the supreme court of appeal ruled against Sitole on 30 June. What you need to know is that Ramaphosa has now set up an inquiry into Sitole’s fitness to hold office, and Sitole has been served with a notice of intention to suspend him. ☝🏽 Details about who is sitting on the panel are yet to be announced, but expect to hear more about this in the news in coming months. 

We’re glad accountability mechanisms like police watchdog IPID, our courts and now this inquiry are in place to stop people like Sitole from doing damage, but wow do we need a good police commissioner already! We’ll be watching keenly for the next appointment. 

This article appeared as part of The Wrap, 14 October 2021. Sign up to receive our weekly updates.