JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South African President Jacob Zuma sacked scandal-tainted police chief Bheki Cele on Tuesday, a rare dismissal of a senior figure from a government plagued by perceptions of rampant corruption.
The firing comes just a year after Cele’s predecessor Jackie Selebi was convicted of corruption and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Zuma announced his decision after the government’s corruption watchdog, the Public Protector, issued a report saying Cele’s involvement in acquiring police office space for nearly $100 million was “improper, unlawful and amounted to maladministration”.
“The reports of the Public Protector and that of the Board of Inquiry indicate deficiencies administratively, and in particular in relation to General Cele’s duties as an accounting officer,” Zuma said in a nationally televised address.
South Africa’s ruling African National Congress and its governing allies have said corruption in the ranks is eating away at the integrity of the former liberation movement that has ruled since the end of apartheid in 1994.
Few believe Cele’s sacking will do much to reduce corruption or end appointments based on patronage over ability.
Zuma has faced corruption charges but has never been convicted. An independent security study found more than a third of the members of the ANC’s powerful National Executive Committee have faced corruption investigations or been convicted of graft.
“It is difficult for a man who is under a corruption cloud himself to have a serious anti-corruption drive,” independent political analyst Allister Sparks said.
Cele will be replaced by businesswomen Mangwashi Phiyega, a relative outsider to police circles who previously chaired a presidential committee reviewing state owned enterprises.
One of the latest scandals to shake the police centered on the suspension of the head of its crime intelligence unit, Richard Mdluli, who is facing numerous investigations.
Police documents obtained by Reuters said Mdluli was suspected of illegally obtaining a fleet of luxury vehicles and placing relatives and mistresses on the police’s payroll. Mdluli has denied any wrongdoing, saying he is the victim of a racist conspiracy.
Zuma also announced his third cabinet reshuffle in as many years on Tuesday.
One of the most high-profile changes was the transfer of Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, daughter of former ANC stalwart Walter Sisulu, to become minister of the public service department.
Zuma is facing re-election as head of the ANC at the end of the year, in a race he is likely to win. He is then almost certain to be the party’s nominee for presidential elections in 2014 and serve another five-year term.