After national police commissioner Riah Phiyega was suspended under a cloud of controversy, an otherwise unknown divisional commissioner in the South African Police Service (SAPS) forensic department was handed the baton.
On October 14, 2015, President Jacob Zuma announced the appointment of Lieutenant General Johannes Kgomotso Phahlane as acting national police commissioner.
No stranger to controversy himself, Phahlane had already sued police union Popcru in 2013 for accusing him of corruption.
But it wasn’t until last year that the beleaguered police chief was to follow the tradition of his predecessors when he was catapulted into a flurry of scandal as allegations of corruption surfaced again. In keeping with this tradition, private forensic investigator Paul O’Sullivan was behind the mayhem, backed by a dossier of evidence handed to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid).
Phahlane described to Saturday Citizen his first few months at the helm and what it was like taking over from Phiyega.
“It was a challenge; even in the police we were being battered from all angles, being in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. The onslaught that was directed at us as police impacted the morale of the people. We needed more resources and to work on boosting confidence.”
Described by his supporters – such as police union Sapu president Mpho Kwinika – as “a hard-working leader” whose achievements have angered some on the inside who want to “bring him down”, Phahlane describes himself as a dynamic leader with more than 30 years of experience in managing the full range of operational functions within the SAPS.
Phahlane said despite his numerous public spats with Popcru, O’Sullivan and Ipid, he enjoyed some highlights over the past two years which encourage him to “keep doing my job”.
“First it would be the 2016 festive season operations, which were successful in bringing down serious and violent crimes – I hope this will be repeated this year – and the reduction of crime in all categories, which I hope will be reflected in the official crime statistics.”
Second, he said, was the manner in which police handled last year’s local government elections, which were described as a “tense election period”.
The third one, surprisingly, was the #FeesMustFall operations conducted around the country last year.
“We, as the police, were confronted with a situation that could have been very explosive. Members who were on the ground were able to practise maximum restraint and to bring the situation back to normality. When we were met with a lot of violence by students throwing stones at police and causing massive damage to public property, and were being attacked at all angles, I had to step in,” he said.
He won the Saps Gold Cross for Bravery last year.
Asked why he thought he and the previous police commissioners always seemed to be accused of corruption or malpractice in the media, he lamented that it was an attempt by outside forces to destabilise the police and undermine the work they had done.
Asked whether he had read the Claassen report on Phiyega’s fitness to hold office, he said: “No, I did not, right now I am busy with the serious matter of doing my job.”