South Africa sacks police chief, reshuffles cabinet


South African President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday fired his police chief, who is implicated in suspect property deals, and replaced him with first woman head of the scandal-tarnished service.

Zuma removed controversial police commissioner Bheki Cele from the post after a commission of enquiry found him “unfit for office” over leases for police offices at far above market rates.

“Having thoroughly considered the report of the board and applied my mind thereto, I’ve decided to release General Cele from his duties,” Zuma told a news conference.

He also announced a cabinet reshuffle, naming former prisons minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to replace unpopular defence minister Lindiwe Sisulu, who now heads public services.

Sisulu, daughter of anti-apartheid leader Walter Sisulu, had numerous clashes with soldiers and refused to report to parliament on her activities.

Transport minister Sibusiso Ndebele was also axed after a disastrous toll project on Johannesburg’s main roads was stalled amid public protests.

Three years into his term, Zuma has become known for regular cabinet reshuffles, the previous one being conducted less than a year ago. The style is a marked shift from former president Thabo Mbeki, who kept ministers despite roiling controversies.

Mangwashi Phiyega was appointed the new national police commissioner with immediate effect.

A technocrat with considerable management experience, she has been a trustee of Nelson Mandela’s foundation and an executive at Barclays-owned banking group Absa.

Appointed in 2009, Cele was accused over irregular leasing deals for police offices from business tycoon Roux Shabangu, who was paid high above market prices for the buildings.

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Known for his flamboyant lifestyle, including flashy clothing topped with a black cowboy hat, Cele caused uproar when he was quoted as telling police to “shoot to kill” suspected criminals shortly after taking office.

Zuma described him as good at policing but bad at maths, saying overall serious crime fell by five percent between 2009 and 2011 but noting that investigations found the police riddled with adminstrative “deficiencies”.

South Africa’s police service has been wracked with successive scandals.

Cele’s predecessor Jackie Selebi, a former Interpol president, is serving a 15-year jail sentence for accepting gifts from a convicted drug trafficker.

Police spy chief Richard Mdluli has been suspended pending investigations over his alleged involvement in the 1999 killing of a man who was married to his former lover.

An internal police probe has also accused him of financial mismanagement, abuse of power and nepotism.

In April, then acting police chief Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi told a parliamentary committee “powers beyond us” had stopped previous investigations into Mdluli, suggesting political interference.

The post of police chief has largely been a political appointment since the end of minority rule in 1994, when an overwhelming number of policemen were white and enforced the apartheid regime.

But calls have mounted for career policemen to take on the job.

The repeated controversies have undermined public faith in police in South Africa, one of the most dangerous countries in the world outside of war zones. There were almost 16,000 murders in the year ending March 2011.