n Journal of Law, Society and Development - A proposed model for the appointment and dismissal of the national commissioner of the South African Police Service : a comparative study

Volume 1 Number 1
  • ISSN : 2313-8289



When South Africa's first democratically elected president was inaugurated on 10 May 1994, South Africans were anxious to see who would be leading the police service. Nelson Mandela followed his heart without bowing to political pressure and appointed seasoned police official Commissioner George Fivaz. Although the Interim Constitution Act 200 of 1993 was silent on the powers of the President to appoint the national commissioners, this appointment was made in terms of section 214(1) of that Act. At the time George Fivaz's term expired, Mandela was also bowing out of the political limelight. When Thabo Mbeki assumed the presidency in 1999, he appointed Jackie Selebi, a former Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) cadre, who came from the Department of Foreign Affairs without any policing experience. This appointment was made in terms of section 207 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, read with section 7(1)(a) of the South African Police Service Act 68 of 1995. Section 8(1) of the South African Police Service Act stipulates that 'if the National Commissioner has lost the confidence of the Cabinet, the President may establish a board of inquiry to inquire into the circumstances that led to the loss of confidence, compile a report and make recommendations.'

After serving his first term, reports of Selebi's involvement in the criminal underworld began to emerge. As a result of these reports, the then Directorate of Special Operations (the Scorpions) investigated Selebi's involvement in corrupt activities. In 2007, Selebi was charged inter alia with two counts of corruption; in 2010, he was found guilty of corruption and sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment. Surprisingly, on 2 August 2009, President Jacob Zuma appointed General Bheki Cele, who also came from an MK background without any policing experience, as the third National Police Commissioner.
Within a year, reports of Cele's involvement in illegal lease deals began to emerge and the office of the Public Protector was called in to investigate the allegations. As a result of its findings of improper conduct and maladministration, he was suspended in 2011 and a commission of inquiry was established in terms of section 8(1) of the South African Police Service Act 68 of 1995 to find out whether the Commissioner was fit to hold office. General Cele was fired for maladministration and corruption and was replaced by General Riah Phiyega, who also did not have any policing experience. A few months after her taking office, the Marikana incident occurred and all the blame for it has been directed at the National Commissioner, although the commission has not yet finalised its mandate. In view of the above-mentioned incidents, it is clear that there is a problem with the way in which the National Commissioner is appointed. This article seeks to unravel the powers of the president in appointing the National Police Commissioner and discuss the cases of the two former incumbents who bowed out of office in disgrace without completing their terms of office. It also includes a comparative study with countries such as Kenya, Northern Ireland, Uganda, Canada and selected countries from the Caribbean islands. As a way forward, a new model for appointing and dismissing the National Commissioner for South Africa is proposed.

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