South Africa's Police Chief Suspended After Massacre Probe

  • Shootings at Lonmin's Marikana mine killed 34 workers in 2012
  • Panel named by President Zuma questioned Phiyega's integrity

South Africa’s police chief was suspended on Wednesday, more than three months after a panel that investigated the most deadly action by the security forces since the end of apartheid questioned her integrity and competence to hold office.

Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega has been placed on leave while another probe into her conduct is conducted, President Jacob Zuma said in an e-mailed statement. Johannes Phahlane, the divisional commissioner for forensic services, was named as acting head of the police service.

Phiyega has been under pressure from opposition parties and civil-rights groups to resign since riot police killed 34 striking miners and more than 70 others were injured at Lonmin Plc’s Marikana platinum mines on Aug. 16, 2012. Zuma appointed a panel led by retired Judge Ian Farlam to probe the killings and the deaths of 10 other people in the lead-up to the police shooting.

The police used wrong tactics to disperse the strikers, while the conduct of senior officers during the subsequent inquiry was questionable, Farlam said in his report, which was made public on June 26. He recommended that the government assess whether Phiyega was guilty of misconduct for trying to mislead the commission and whether she was fit to remain in her post.

“We have picked up some of the areas where we strongly disagree with the content of the report, such as the insinuation that management went to work that day with murderous intent,” Phiyega said in a July 26 statement. “At a personal level, I am particularly saddened by the loss of life.”

Phiyega previously headed a panel that reviewed the role of state-owned companies and had no policing experience when Zuma named her commissioner in June 2012 in place of Bheki Cele. Graft ombudsman Thuli Madonsela found Cele acted unlawfully when he agreed to pay 1.8 billion rand ($135 million) for two office leases, more than three times the market rate, and a board of inquiry found him unfit to hold office.

Cele’s predecessor Jackie Selebi, who died on Jan. 23, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for corruption in 2010.

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