The first 90 minutes of the Claassen Board of Inquiry into Riah Phiyega’s fitness to hold office as the National Police Commissioner was spent arguing over whether or not new witnesses and evidence could be introduced and if the parameters of the inquiry could be expanded.
After intense argument by evidence leader Ismail Jamie SC and William Mokhari for the suspended Phiyega, chairperson Judge Neels Claasen ruled evidence leaders may call witnesses – subject to certain conditions such as relevance and being tested – who were not called at the Farlam Commission and that the scope of the inquiry would not only be limited to actual evidence led at the Farlam Commission.
Claasen ruled Phiyega’s conduct after the conclusion of the Farlam Commission was relevant.
Claassen noted the inquiry was “in the nature” of a disciplinary hearing between an employee and employer.
Jamie had made the point Phiyega had criticised Judge Ian Farlam, calling his report malicious, and that this was itself an indication Phiyega was not fit to hold office, while Mokhari hammered on the point the terms of reference for the inquiry were set by President Jacob Zuma and only he could change them.
In 2012 police killed 34 miners at Lonmin Platinum Mine in Marikana near Rustenberg, the government’s biggest attack on civilians since apartheid ended.
Phiyega was appointed in June 2012 on the heels of former police boss Bheki Cele, who was removed from office by Zuma for improperly awarding a R1.7 billion housing contract.
Jackie Selebi also exited the office in disgrace, making Phiyega the third civillian appointment to come under scrutiny for conduct unbecoming the office of head of the police.
The inquiry bodes ill for Phiyega, who was excoriated by the the Farlam Commission, which recommended the General submit a report to Zuma over her fitness to hold office after the mass killing.
At the time of Zuma’s appointment of South Africa’s first female police chief, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies Johann Burger told Reuters his main concerns were “with her lack of experience with the police as an organisation and policing as a function”.
Marikana Support Campaign steering committee spokesperson Rehad Desai said he was worried Phiyega would attempt to stymie proceedings by blocking the Farlam Report, upon which the Claassen Inquiry is founded.
“We don’t know whether she is going ahead with this case, we are concerned that in the words of the Farlam Commission she has fabricated, lied, distorted the evidence and she has been prepared to take the path where she is acting as the fall guy,” Desai said.
It is believed Phiyega may try derail the proceedings by having the recommendations of the Farlam Commission excluded from the inquiry however there has been no sign of this yet.