National police commissioner, General Sehlahle Fannie Masemola
Johannesburg – President Ramaphosa announced General Sehlahle Fannie Masemola as South Africa’s new national police commissioner. This comes after Khehla Sitole’s term ended on Thursday following the early termination of his contract.
Masemola is the former head of the SAP’s VIP Protection Unit and the deputy police commissioner. Dr Johan Burger, independent consultant on crime and policing, stressed that change needed to be made because of Sitole’s relationship with the minister of police, Bheki Cele.
“The infighting at leadership level at the police service and the tension between the police leadership, especially the national commissioner and the minister of police became absolutely unbearable. There was no way that the police could function optimally while all of this was happening.”
Masemola’s accomplishments are said to be exceptional. Having almost thirty-six years of experience on his side, working through every level of the police force, his appointment has come at the right time, though it will not be an easy task.
For Burger, Masemola has two major problems to tackle. One internally and one externally. Externally he needs to get crime under control. Between October to December 2021, 6 859 murders were recorded, up from 6 279 the year before (+9.2%). Even attempted murders were up by 3.5%, with the SAPS tracking 5 645 cases.
“The crime situation in South Africa affects not just us who are living in the country but also impacts on international tourism to South Africa and investment. It affects every possible sphere of life in this country. As things stand, it is becoming worse.”
The internal aspect too is of concern. The infighting within the police force has caused the service to become fragmented. It will now fall to Masemola to get everyone in line inside the police force and outside.
“The other one is the internal one in terms of the problems that the police face internally and there are many. He has a huge challenge to tackle. A thorough reform process within the police service and at the same time dealing with a crime threat.”
Sitole departed after the relationship with Cele soured. This often led to public spats between the two and was one of the reasons for his departure. Burger believes the tensions existed because Sitole was not what Cele wanted in a national commissioner.
“I think in the past, what led to the tensions between the minister and the national commissioner was the fact that the outgoing minister Sitole, in his own words, was a strategic thinker and not a very good operational commander. That I think was the biggest frustration for the minister. He wanted an operational commander of the police. Someone who could take care of operations on the ground, who would be, like last year in July in KwaZulu-Natal, would be prepared to go down to ground level and take command of the police during a situation that clearly demands top leadership. Those are some of the reasons why I think there was this tension.”
Burger believes that these issues won’t be a problem between Cele and Masemola, as Masemola has the inclination towards police operational work.
Before Masemola can tackle crime in the country, he will need to get his force in order by dealing with the internal problems before tackling the external ones.
“The big challenge was internally to set in motion actions that will improve trust within the police service and amongst the public with regards to police. Once settled down in office, he would have to have a meeting with his management, he would have to go around the country and visit at least the top leaders in each of the provinces. He must show himself. He must provide a situation where he can connect with these top leaders and then once he has gone through that process, he will have to start a new process. A police reform process.”
The process is a difficult one which Burger says Masemola must be aware cannot be done alone. Inviting outside help is crucial to tackle it effectively.
“There are many experts outside of the police that are available to assist him in the process. He will have to go about appointing, let’s say, an advisory group of some sort which could include both police members, those with the necessary skill and expertise, as well as representatives from institutions including research institutions, academic institutions, and other people with skills outside of the police that can advise him.”
This group can then help him in conjunction with the numerous authoritative reports already available, including the commission of enquiry reports, as well as the panel of expert reports. There are 136 recommendations which “are all very practical and implementable recommendations,” said Burger, which can be used as a basis for his strategy.
A statement from Cele’s office, released after the announcement read, “The ministry is hopeful this appointment, which marks a new chapter in the life of the SAPS, will further strengthen the existing efforts within the service to safeguard South Africans and all those who live within our borders, along with their property.”
The statement continued, “No stranger to the functioning of the SAPS both on an administrative and operational level, the police ministry is confident Lt-Gen Masemola, who served as the deputy national commissioner responsible for policing since April 2016, will hit the ground running in pursuing the overall vision of the organisation and take it to new heights.”
A tough road awaits Masemola with many hurdles to cross to get crime under control and restore order to the police force.
Inayet Wadee spoke with Johan Burger about the appointment of a new national police commissioner: