President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced Sehlahle Fannie Masemola as the new National Police Commissioner
President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced Sehlahle Fannie Masemola as the new National Police Commissioner. Photo: SA News

President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced Sehlahle Fannie Masemola (58) as the new National Police Commissioner. Masemola carries the baton from General Khehla Sitole, who vacated the position on Thursday after reaching mutual consent with the President in February.

Making the announcement during an address to the nation on Thursday, President Ramaphosa said he believes Masemola is a “fit and proper” person for the role. He has been a Deputy Police Commissioner with an outstanding record of achievements in policing across South Africa, said Ramaphosa.

Masemola helped with the de-escalation of violence in KwaZulu-Natal after the first democratic elections in 1994, where he was stationed. Masemola also brings to this position his experience in drastically reducing cash-in-transit crimes in the period around 2016.

The incoming Commissioner also played a leading role in coordinating security for all elections since 1994 and all major events hosted by the country. Most recently, the General served the country as the chairperson of the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NatJOINTS) on COVID-19, which coordinated government’s efforts across different sectors nationally and internationally.


Weight of the nation

The President said the weight of the nation’s expectation resting on the Commissioner’s shoulders would only be matched by the amount of the support government would place at his disposal.

President Ramaphosa said: “[A] stable, capable and capacitated South African Police Service is our surest guarantee that our constitutional rights will not be violated by criminals.”

The SA government, he said, will be taking further steps to restore stability in the country’s security structures by filling critical vacancies in a number of agencies. These include the State Security Agency and Crime Intelligence.

He assured Masemola of Cabinet and the SA government’s full support.

“I want to call on the leadership, as well as the rank and file, of the South African Police Service [SAPS] to pledge their support to you as well. You have the weight of the nation’s expectations resting on your shoulders, but I am confident you are more than up to this task and responsibility.

The President also called on South Africans to offer support to the National Commissioner.

“We can only eradicate crime if we work together,” he said.

Selection process

Masemola’s appointment is a culmination of the work done by a selection panel appointed by President Ramaphosa in February, a selection process that AfriForum says was conducted “in the darkest corners of the Presidency”. The DA also raised questions about the selection process.

The panel comprised Prof Sydney Mufamadi as chairperson; Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga; Police Minister General Bheki Cele; Retired Former Police Commissioner George Fivaz, and Presidency, National Treasury and State Security Director-Generals Phindile Baleni, Dondo Mogajane, and Ambassador Thembisile Majola, respectively.

While 24 Lieutenants-General or higher were invited to apply for the job, five were shortlisted.

Cele casts dark cloud over National Police Commissioner selection

Andrew Whitfield – DA Shadow Minister of Police – said while the DA notes the fact that a career policeman was given the job as top cop, “we have many reservations” regarding Lieutenant-General Fannie Masemola’s appointment.

“Police Minister Bheki Cele serving on the selection panel with Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, and the secrecy surrounding the appointment process does little to engender faith that Lt.Gen. Masemola is not simply another deployed cadre. It is simply absurd that the appointment of a national police commissioner is not open to public scrutiny…” Whitfield said in media statement.

“Lt.Gen. Masemola’s key test will be his ability to stand up to Minister Cele’s bullying and efforts to micromanage the operational affairs of the SAPS. The commissioner will have to prove to South Africans that he is independent and not merely Minister Cele’s puppet. This will mean difficult and brave decisions that effectively combat corruption and crime, and also keep Cele from his dream of being both Minister and Commissioner.”

Masemola’s record is not without blemish. In 2012 The Star newspaper reported that it understood “that the acting divisional commissioner of crime intelligence, Fannie Masemola, went on a spending spree, acquiring 140 luxury vehicles, among them BMW X3s, Audi Q5s, the latest Jeep SRTs and the latest BMW 320 models”.

AfriForum urged the new Police Commissioner to focus on crime, not politics like so many of his predecessors.

“Having been part of the SAPS’ senior national leadership since 2016, Masemola should have a clear picture of the most pressing issues within the service,” AfriForum said in a statement on Thursday evening.

AfriForum also noted the president’s statements regarding a more inclusive approach to policing and the need to join hands with different sectors of society.

“AfriForum reiterates, in that regard, the organisation’s willingness to work together with the SAPS to create a safer South Africa. This applies both to AfriForum neighbourhood watches’ continued cooperation with local police officials on ground level to combat crime, as well as to efforts to improve national police strategy. This could include the creation of specific counterstrategies for specific crimes such as farm attacks and murders, and the implementation thereof at a national level,” said the statement.

“One could wonder why Masemola was not able to provide the necessary leadership to turn the SAPS ship around in his previous, already very senior roles. We nonetheless hope that his appointment will not lead to a continuation of what we have seen in the SAPS for the past few years. If Masemola uses his knowledge and experience to focus on long term improvements rather than mere short-term movements, he might be able to successfully lead the SAPS into the future,” says Guido Urlings, Manager of Support Services for AfriForum’s Community Safety department.

Regarding the new National Commissioner’s age and the possibility of him going on pension within the next few years, Jacques Broodryk, Campaigns Manager at AfriForum, added: “This would seriously jeopardize the policy stability that the SAPS so desperately needs, and we therefore sincerely hope that this was considered during the decision-making process.”

Strengthening the criminal justice system

The appointment is the latest in a series of commitments intended to strengthen the criminal justice system President Ramaphosa made in the 2022 State of the Nation Address.

During the address, the President said government would make resources available to recruit and train an additional 12 000 new police personnel to ensure that the SAPS urgently received the capacity it required.

In the past few weeks, the South African government has reinforced the criminal justice system through the appointment of:

  • A new Head of the Investigating Directorate (ID) of the National Prosecuting Authority; Adv Andrea Johnson
  • A new Director-General of State Security, Amb Thembisile Majola and
  • Five permanent Directors of Public Prosecutions in five provinces where these positions had been occupied by Acting Directors.

Sources: SAnews.gov.za, DA, AfriForum