‘I Have No Skeletons’ – Career Cop Takes Over Top Job

Khehla Sitole. Picture: Deaan Vivier

‘I have no skeletons in my closet,” says new police commissioner General Khehla Sitole emphatically.

Speaking to City Press from his new office in Pretoria after his appointment this week, Sitole promised to make regain public trust in the police force and to restore the morale of its members.

He says he plans to do everything in his power to serve and protect the citizens of South Africa, and make them proud of the SA Police Service (SAPS).

He has taken over from acting commissioner Lieutenant General Lesetja Mothiba, who replaced acting commissioner Lieutenant General Kgomotso Phahlane only six months ago. Sitole is the first police commissioner to be appointed permanently since Riah Phiyega was suspended in 2015.

 Sitole is a career policeman who joined the police service in 1986 as a student constable at KwaMhlanga Police Station in Mpumalanga.

However, sceptics are already wondering whether the new commissioner will complete his term of office without any scandals – most of his predecessors barely managed to stay at the helm for more than two years.

“I challenge sceptics to give me time to do what I have been appointed to do,” says Sitole as he places his right hand over his heart as if pledging allegiance.

When he was moved from the Free State to the national office by his ally Phiyega, the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union and the SA Policing Union said they were sad to see him leave.

Yesterday SAPU president Mpho Kwinika said the newly appointed police head has a lot to fix.

“We welcome the fact that he is a career police officer and has been in the service and understands the organisational problems,” he said.

Richard Mamabolo of Popcru said Sitole should quickly spell out his vision for the service and this would convince the public that he is the right person to take the police forward.

He said leadership instability in the police has delayed progress in the SAPS’s goal of fighting crime and “building sustainable relations with our communities”.

The 54-year-old career officer has come up through the ranks of the SAPS.

“When I was appointed as a provincial commissioner in the Free State, some people were cynical about my appointment.

“Some said I was busy talking about strategies while the crime was getting rife and people were being killed.

“I designed an effective provincial crime prevention strategy that was later incorporated into the National Development Plan.”

A Plan To Make South Africans Feel Safe

Sitole says he regards his appointment as a continuation of his “calling” to be a police officer, adding that he has a plan to make South Africans feel genuinely safe again in their homes and neighbourhoods.

“I am a strategist and will make sure that South Africans feel safe.

“Having been in the service for as long as I have, I know how to tackle crime and I have already started the process of targeting trio crimes [robbery with aggravating circumstances, which include carjacking, house and business robbery],” he says.

The crime statistics released by Police Minister Fikile Mbalula last month showed there had been a marked increase in trio crimes.

According to Gareth Newham, the head of the Justice and Violence Prevention Programme at the Institute for Security Studies, since 2011/12, the number of murders increased by 36.9% and aggravated robbery increased by 53% in Gauteng.

If police were effectively targeting and arresting people who committed murders and robberies, these crimes would be decreasing substantially, he said.

For example, between 2009 and 2011, the Gauteng SAPS effectively targeted people committing robberies and managed to reduce hijacking by 32%, house robberies by 20% and business robberies by 19%.

Sitole says he wants to redirect more resources and personnel in Gauteng to tackle crime in South Africa’s troubled economic hub.

“I am in a process of dividing Gauteng into the north and the south, and will ensure that people in Gauteng feel safe,” he says.

Acting commissioner Phahlane was suspended following corruption-related allegations that were investigated by the executive director of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.

Sitole says he will also spend time boosting morale in the police service.

“I will start with addressing the salary structures and also ensure that the police service becomes an attractive career path,” he says, adding that he understands that he also inherited problems within the crime intelligence unit, which that has been without a permanent leader for more than six years following the suspension of Richard Mdluli.

He says he will pay particular attention to issues relating to the vetting of senior police leaders and several allegations of illegally spying on the country’s powerful politicians, businesses and civil society leaders for political reasons.

“I must ensure that I appoint a permanent head [for intelligence] and ensure that vetting is prioritised.

“I want to make sure that criminals are not allowed to enter the police service, be it crime intelligence or any other unit,” he says, noting that almost 1 400 police officers have been found to have criminal records but are still working for the SAPS.

Several police officers who previously worked closely with Sitole describe him as “an honest officer” whose appointment would most likely not attract scandals.

They told City Press that he has always acted with integrity and has avoided leadership squabbles.

“I know Khehla very well and he has always been an honest and supportive leader that one can rely on.

“I wouldn’t mind returning to serve under his leadership,” said one of the country’s top detectives, Colonel Mashudu Freddy Ramuhala, who has led several high-profile investigations, including into Czech mobster Radovan Krejcír, who has been convicted and remains in jail in South Africa.

By:  Abram Mashego

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