An unfazed General Bheki Cele said he spent Thursday morning working out at the gym with the English rugby team, even as reports of his imminent sacking as national police commissioner circulated in the national media.
He had not been told he was to be fired, he said, and the first he had heard about it was in the media.
“I heard from you that I am fired,” he told The Mercury, adding that he felt “very, very good”, and that he had “no stress”.
“I don’t suffer from Mdluli’s disease,” he joked, referring to reports of suspended crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli being gravely ill.
Cele’s comments come after The Mercury was told by three police sources he had been fired.
He said: “I hope the president speaks soon, so one can deal with facts rather than rumours.”
On Thursday, Cele dined at his favourite fish restaurant in Durban’s posh Florida Road area where he had a subdued lunch with three female companions. Unaccompanied by bodyguards or an entourage, Cele kept a low profile as he arrived alone in a white Jeep SUV.
But his trademark Panama hat gave away his identity and a few well wishers at the restaurant approached him to greet him and he shook hands with them and chatted for a few minutes. Cele, who did not appear to be his usual lively self, said he was enjoying his lunch and did not want to talk to the media.
One of his companions said: “It is our time to bond with him.”
Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj again refused to comment on “rumours” and “speculation” over what action President Jacob Zuma might take after considering Judge Jake Moloi’s report on the police lease-deals scandal.
“The rumours remain rumours. The speculation remains speculation,” Maharaj said.
“I won’t say (the rumours) are not true. I will say when the president informs me.”
He said to comment “either way” would give the rumours “legs” and would be “pre-empting” a decision by the president.
He said Zuma was “studying” Moloi’s report, but would not comment on what progress had been made in this regard.
Asked whether the president was considering calls for a more transparent process to appoint a new national police commissioner, with speculation rife that Zuma might replace Cele with Nathi Nhleko, director-general of the Department of Labour and another old colleague of Zuma’s from KwaZulu-Natal, Maharaj said people could “make all their calls”.
“If they want to re-write the constitution, they can. You make these calls because you think you can do a better job (than the president),” Maharaj said.
Cele’s spokesman Vuyo Mkhize, said the suspended commissioner was ready to take the fight to the courts.
“We are not preparing. Right now we are prepared. The legal papers are prepared,” Mkhize said.
“Let me confirm we have every intention of pursuing this matter all the way to the courts, to ensure (Moloi’s) report is declared legally unsound and invalid.”
He said legal papers would be filed “as soon as an official decision is made as to whether the general keeps his job”.
He said legal processes could be pursued even if Cele was not sacked.
“We want the report to be erased from the public record. This process would have to be initiated (by the president). It would be up to him.”
He said they had not heard from the presidency, but were in no rush to contact it either.
“We are happy to bide our time. Bear in mind that we have waited for nine months now. So what’s one more hour or one more day,” he asked.
He said Cele would be happy to serve in another position, if asked.
“The general’s passion is about service delivery in general – not just policing. So if the ANC were to say to him he should redirect his passion to delivering exercise books to schools, you can bet your bottom dollar he will bring the same passion, enthusiasm and efficiency to that task,” Mkhize said.
Cope MP and spokesman on police Leonard Ramatlakane said the party was concerned by Zuma’s “silence in the midst of reports” Cele had been fired. He said the allegations against Cele were so damning he should not continue in his position.
“He should have resigned soon after the public protector released her findings,” Ramatlakane said.
“Cope believes the inevitable firing of Cele, whose office has been riddled with unpopular decisions, will help stabilise the destroyed police morale.”
Freedom Front Plus MP and spokesman on police Pieter Groenewald said Zuma should make his decision public.
“If the speculation is true that Cele has already been fired the question arises why Zuma has not announced it.
“The lingering of Zuma is creating further uncertainty and undermining the morale in the police,” Groenewald said.
“Further allegations that Cele wants to return to politics in KwaZulu-Natal are also creating the impression that Zuma is waiting until Cele is politically accommodated, but in the meantime Cele is still receiving a salary.”
He said “certainty in the police” would be in the national interest.