Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa says the public must give newly-appointed Acting National Commissioner of Police Major-General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi an opportunity to prove his mettle.
Mkhwanazi was appointed Monday by President Jacob Zuma after he suspended General Bheki Cele pending a board of inquiry into his conduct. During her investigation into the lease agreements for police headquarters in Pretoria and offices in Durban, Public Protector Advocate Thuli Madonsela found that Cele’s conduct as SAPS’ accounting officer was improper, unlawful conduct, which amounted to maladministration, the state BuaNews agency reported.
Madonsela’s first report on the police leasing deals, released in February, pertained to her investigation into the deal for the Middestad building in Pretoria, which was leased for R500 million from businessman Roux Shabangu. The second, released in July, scrutinised the R1.16 billion leasing of Transnet Tower in Durban, also from Shabangu. Madonsela found that the leases were unlawful, invalid and “fatally flawed”.
Mthethwa said it is unfortunate that there are already some who are peddling negative remarks around Mkhwanazi’s seniority, experience and age. “This is a tried-and-tested cop. The fact of the matter is that we are not talking about a junior constable here. General Mkhwanazi has grown through the SAPS ranks having excellently distinguished himself [sic] in various key components including the National Intervention Unit, Air Wing, Public Order Policing to mention but a few. So he is not a mafikizolo (newcomer).
“The very same people who are questioning his credentials would in any way, have moaned had the President appointed someone who was outside the SAPS ranks, that is for sure. I have urged him to remain focused on the tasks ahead; as he steers this SAPS ship with diligence. I remain confident that together with his colleagues, they will rise to the occasion,” stated the Minister.
Mkhwanazi joined the police in 1993. His initial deployment was in Public Order Policing. “He successfully managed to grow within the ranks of the police reaching the level of a major general,” the police say in a biographic note. “He was then appointed to the Special Task force as per his outstanding performance and expertise,” SAPS added.
Some of Mkhwanazi’s responsibilities as the section head, Special Task Force, “included counteracting volatile hostage situations on land, sea and air; performing specialised search and recovery operations; protection duties, and serving high risk warrants. He was appointed as head of the Special Task Force in 2005.
“Currently he manages the air wing, all specialised operations, tactical response team, national intervention units, the tracking team and mobile operations, as well as cross border operations. Amongst others, he supervises and maintains the running of the air wing operations and training processes,” the police said.
Mthethwa’s opposition Democratic Alliance shadow Dianne Kohler Barnard said she would be asking Zuma to explain his choice. She says Mkhwanazi was appointed to the top post ahead of a large pool of senior and experienced SAPS managers. “…Mkhwanazi’s ties to President Zuma’s political support base in KwaZulu Natal also raise questions about the influence of political considerations in making this appointment.”
Institute for Security Studies policing expert Johan Burger said it was “shocking” and “absolutely ridiculous” that Zuma had decided to appoint a relatively junior officer. In what Burger termed a “huge insult”, Zuma snubbed Cele’s five deputies, nine national divisional commissioners and nine provincial commissioners, all ranked lieutenant general.
Mkhwanazi was only recently promoted to the rank of major general.
“Unless there is something that we don’t know, it’s a huge mistake to appoint a major general to act,” Burger told The Star newspaper. “Can you imagine what the senior, provincial, national divisional commissioner and Cele’s deputies must think? The officer is of a lower rank, less experience. It’s a huge insult. It’s simply ridiculous, I cannot understand how he could have arrived at his decision, unless he has an ulterior motive … One cannot help but search for another explanation and political motive immediately comes to mind.”
Zuma’s spokesman, Mac Maharaj said the president had chosen “a person he could trust” and had “looked into his background and decided this is the best person for the job”.