South African President Cyril Ramaphosa fired the national police commissioner, weeks after a probe criticised the security force’s handling of an outbreak of civil unrest last year that claimed 354 lives.
Khehla Sitole’s contract was terminated by mutual agreement, Ramaphosa’s office said in a statement on Friday.
“President Ramaphosa and General Sitole have agreed that the early termination of the commissioner’s contract is in the best interests of the country,” it said.
A week of rioting that erupted in July last year following former President Jacob Zuma’s incarceration on contempt-of-court charges saw thousands of businesses looted and cost the economy an estimated R50 billion ($3.3 billion). A panel appointed by Ramaphosa to probe the violence criticised the police’s inadequate response and found that tensions between Sitole and Police Minister Bheki Cele were among the contributors.
Cele had accused Sitole of insubordination and sought his dismissal. Last year, Sitole lost an appeal against a High Court judgment that found he put the interests of the ruling party ahead of the country’s.
Ramaphosa wrote to Sitole in September warning him that he may set up a probe into his fitness to hold office and in his Feb. 10 state-of-the-nation address announced plans to overhaul the leadership of the law enforcement agencies. The breakdown in the relationship between the police minister and commissioner were concerning, the president told reporters on February 16.
Sitole alleged in a February 15 statement that “his name and image is being tarnished for political reasons,” without elaborating on what they were.
The police have also drawn criticism for failing to address rampant criminality, which has been cited as a major deterrent to investment. More than 60 people are murdered each day in South Africa, and its per-capita homicide rate is more than five times the international average.