There has been nothing but warm praise for the appointment of advocate Godfrey Lebeya as the new head of the directorate for priority crime investigation, the Hawks.

Whether one speaks to former colleagues, politicians or academics, the refrain is that he is a man of integrity and honesty who is dedicated to the task at hand.

The endorsements on his LinkedIn page attest to the respect that he inspires among those who have worked with him.

One can say that Lebeya (56) is tailor-made for his new position. Policing is his life — he has about 32 years of investigative experience in the police force. He acquired the managerial experience necessary for his new position when he was deputy national commissioner of police in charge of crime intelligence and detective services for five years. The knowledge of the law needed to underpin his work came through his doctorate in criminal law with a specific focus on organised crime.

This focus will serve him well in the fight against cash-in-transit heists, organised armed robberies and vehicle theft syndicates, which are high priorities for the Hawks.

Lebeya served as deputy national police commissioner between February 2011 and May 2016. But he fell out with then national commissioner Riah Phiyega; some say this was because of his determination that steps should be taken against head of crime intelligence in the police service at the time, Richard Mdluli, who was accused of murder. After prolonged legal battles, which he won, Lebeya was finally dismissed in May 2016.

He faces a huge challenge in cleaning up the Hawks and transforming it into the elite crime fighting unit it is supposed to be. According to Institute for Security Studies senior research consultant Johan Burger — who had nothing but good things to say about Lebeya — his major challenge will be addressing the unfortunate legacy of his predecessor (in a permanent position), Berning Ntlemeza.

The first major task will be undoing the appointment of some of the nine provincial heads of the Hawks appointed by Ntlemeza, who left the directorate in 2017 after the high court declared in March of that year that his appointment was invalid and unlawful.

Burger says some of the people appointed by him were questionable in terms of their integrity, commitment to fighting corruption or abilities to manage the provincial offices.

Lebeya will also have to restore the reputation of the Hawks as a corruption-busting unit. This was tarnished under Ntlemeza, who made a name for himself through his dogged pursuit of former finance minister Pravin Gordhan on spurious charges related to the alleged "rogue unit" at the SA Revenue Service.

Deputy national director of public prosecutions in the National Prosecuting Authority Willie Hofmeyr says he worked with Lebeya for many years before he left the police service, both in the Asset Forfeiture Unit and the Special Investigating Unit.

"He is one of the most skilled and dedicated police officers I know. I believe he will make a big difference in the fight against crime and corruption," Hofmeyr says.

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