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S. Africa Crime Fight Hurt as Zuma Fires 2nd Police Chief

Fired Police Chief Bheki Cele
Then South African National Police Commissioner Bheki Cele. Photographer: Rodger Bosch/Bloomberg

South Africa’s fight against crime suffered a blow after President Jacob Zuma fired his second police chief in three years in the wake of a corruption scandal.

Zuma dismissed Police Commissioner Bheki Cele yesterday after a board of inquiry found that he was unfit for office. Cele, who was appointed in 2009, was suspended in October after Public Protector Thuli Madonsela found his actions “unlawful and improper” in agreeing to pay 1.8 billion rand ($213 million) for two office leases, more than three times the market rate.

Zuma is struggling to maintain public trust in the security services as he prepares to seek re-election as head of the ruling African National Congress in December. South Africa’s murder rate is 31.9 per 100,000 people, more than six times higher than in the U.S. Cele’s predecessor Jackie Selebi was sentenced to 15 years in prison for corruption in 2010, while the head of the police’s crime intelligence was suspended last month.

“There is a long way to go to restore faith in the bureaucracy that manages South Africa’s crime-fighting units,” Daniel Silke, an independent political analyst who has advised Telkom South Africa Ltd. and Sanlam Ltd., said in a phone interview from Durban. “This has severely damaged the reputation of the administration.”

Challenge Findings

Mangwashi Phiyega, the chairwoman of the presidential review committee on state-owned enterprises and the deputy chairwoman of the independent commission on the remuneration of office bearers, will replace Cele.

Cele said today that while isn’t challenging his dismissal, he plans to ask the Pretoria High Court this week to overturn the findings of the inquiry board. His comments were broadcast on eNews Channel.

The application “will lay bear the monumental errors of fact” in the board’s findings, he said.

“General Cele’s dismissal and the reasons for that point to growing concern that there has been corruption and organized criminal activity of a systemic nature within the South African Police Services,” Hennie van Vuuren, director of the Institute for Security Studies’ Cape Town office, said in a phone interview.

‘Shoot to Kill’

During Cele’s term in office, South Africa’s murder rate fell in the year through March 2011 from 34.1 per 100,000 people in the previous 12 months, according to police data published on Sept. 8. Cele was criticized soon after being appointed for telling police officers to “shoot to kill” when faced with armed criminals, the Johannesburg-based Saturday Star reported in August 2009.

Richard Mdluli, head of police crime intelligence, was suspended while he faces an investigation of misusing state funds, nepotism and meddling in politics. Mdluli and Cele have denied any wrongdoing.

Crime is cited by companies as a deterrent to investment in a country whose economy is forecast by the government to expand 2.7 percent in 2012, less than half the pace required to cut a 25.2 percent jobless rate.

“There has been mounting public pressure, pressure from within the ruling alliance, for action and I think that the president could only sit on his hands for so long and was forced to act,” Van Vuuren said.

The rand gained 0.2 percent to 8.3857 against the dollar as of 11:25 a.m. in Johannesburg.

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