I watched the new sheriff in town in a fleetingly short television interview last night. Trying as hard as I could to cut through the rather banal questions and the barrage of hackneyed idioms evidently favoured by South Africa's first black female national police commissioner, I eventually gave up the battle I'd set myself to get to grips with her message.
But I forced myself to regain focus when Mangwashi Victoria (Riah) Phiyega used the rather strange analogy of a motor vehicle's rear-view mirror and its windscreen as a parallel with the rather inglorious past of high-ranking South African Police Service officials and the brighter future she most certainly hopes for. "We need to go on... Not stay in the gloom and doom," she said.
A nebulous response, I'd say, to one of the most pressing questions she'll need to face head-on: the incessant internal strife plaguing the upper echelons of the police. As nebulous and non-specific as her reply was, at least it was an answer of sorts. She simply didn't respond to the question on the blatant lack of trust the public has in the SAPS.
Will she become, asked the reporter, what Advocate Thuli Madonsela is to the Public Protector's office? The new police boss lady just wants to be remembered as "Ma Riah," she said, and use her position "as an opportunity to serve the nation."
In church yesterday morning, before a slew of well-wishers from the Tshwane Uniting Reformed Church, Ma Riah's eyes became moist. But they were not, she insisted, tears of weakness. Taking to the podium, she likened her job to being in a David versus Goliath battle, and then asked the Atteridgeville congregation to sing 'I Surrender All.'
"I'm not crying because I am weak. I'm crying because the challenge before me is heavy and also because I am with my brothers and sisters."
A few days earlier, at her first media outing in Pretoria as the country's top cop, General Phiyega said: "While I have never been a police officer, I say that you do not need to be a drunkard to own a bottle store." Not quite the analogy the public was looking for, me thinks. But then neither was this comment: "I have been entrusted with this job which will need a Red Bull to complete."
The inevitable cartoon in a daily newspaper following all the headlines, depicted the Polokwane-born woman as a domestic worker brandishing a feather duster in a determined effort to 'clean the house.' It, of course, raised the ire of its readers who said that in one harsh sketch, General Phiyega had been "boxed and labeled."
"Mangwashi hasn't even been given a chance to work yet!" blustered one reader. "Is this the only way that black women will ever be seen?"
"You see domestic worker; I see head of household," retorted another. "This is a woman who will clean up all this mess."
Liquor outlets, energy drinks and feather dusters aside, the former social worker faces a herculean task, apart from having to deal with all this innuendo. While her business track record on strategic leadership and management should put her in an ideal position to deal with the police's budgetary and financial problems and restore good corporate governance, she'll first have to win the confidence of the big brass of the boys in blue. She'll need to deal with the infighting within police structures, alleged wide-scale looting of crime intelligence funds, state resources being used to fight political battles, shambolic finances and the controversial headquarters lease.
And while all eyes will be on her as she does what she can to steer the boat into calmer waters, it may pay the former executive to work on her key messages. She needs to come across more like the crime fighter she needs to be, and less like an inexperienced appointment designed solely as a political move to shore up support ahead of the ANC's Mangaung elective conference in December.
With 27 years of experience in mainstream print and broadcasting media as a South African journalist, Janine Lazarus focuses her Media Training Consultancy on developing and facilitating superior and interactive training experiences that leave delegates with confidence and knowledge to engage their communication skills effectively. Her valuable experience in interviewing top public figures, celebrities and headline makers will help your organisation to develop effective Brand Ambassadors.
References from clients in South Africa and other African countries rate her training as both an empowering and an invaluable experience.- more....
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