JOHANNESBURG – South Africa has its first woman national police chief, the president announced Tuesday, after the previous chief was caught up in a financial mismanagement scandal and the one before that was jailed for corruption.
The appointment of Mangwashi Victoria Phiyega, whom the governing African National Congress said was the first woman to hold the job, comes amid questions about whether capable officials are leading the fight against high levels of violent crime in South Africa. President Jacob Zuma, who seven months ago suspended now-former police chief Bheki Cele, has been accused of acting too slowly to address public concerns about policing.
According to a report released in February, Cele violated laws and regulations by failing to seek competitive bids when leasing police offices. Zuma said Tuesday that he had fired Cele, a move rumored for days in the local media.
Cele's predecessor, Jackie Selebi, is serving a 15-year prison sentence for corruption after a trial in which evidence showed he went on shopping sprees with a drug smuggler in exchange for information about police investigations.
Phiyega currently chairs a presidential committee appointed to review the viability and efficiency of state-owned companies, which include the company that runs the airline and other transportation services.
In his announcement Tuesday, Zuma said "Phiyega brings a wealth of experience as a senior executive who understands the responsibility of government in the fight against crime and the duties imposed in dealing with state assets."
The Democratic Alliance, South Africa's main opposition party, welcomed the firing of Cele, but expressed disappointment over the new appointment, saying Phiyega lacks policing experience.
"We would have hoped that the president would have acted to restore public confidence in the South African Police Service by appointing someone with a demonstrated ability in crime fighting and police management," the DA said in a press release.
President Zuma has been criticized for appointing politicians for the position before, said Johan Burger, an expert on policing and a former high ranking officer who is a senior researcher at South Africa's independent Institute for Security Studies.
According to Burger, appointing politicians who are seen as knowing little about running a force leads to distrust and disrespect among police officers.