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GCWALISILE KHANYILE AND NATHI OLIFANT
Disgraced top cop Bheki Cele said he wouldn’t fight for his job, but would challenge President Jacob Zuma for “legally unsound and defamatory claims about my character and conduct”.
Zuma reportedly fired Cele this week after a damning report implicated him in corruption. Speaking through his spokesman Vuyo Mkhize yesterday, Cele said he would take Zuma to court not because he wanted to stay on the job, but to clear his name.
The war of words has been triggered by the report compiled by the board of inquiry – chaired by Judge Jake Moloi – into Cele’s fitness to hold office following the leasing of two buildings for the SAPS.
The inquiry found that Cele was dishonest, conflicted, negligent and unfit for office.
But Mkhize said: “While Cele accepts that it is the president’s prerogative to appoint and fire the national police commissioner, he also believes that nobody – Judge Jake Moloi and President Jacob Zuma included – has a right to make legally unsound and defamatory claims about his character and conduct.”
Mkhize said Cele had by all accounts delivered on his mandate to “turn the SAPS into a sleek and effective crime-fighting machine”.
“This is the reason why he will go to court if the president upholds Judge Moloi’s report. His court bid will be to (clear) his name, not to fight to hang on to his job,” Mkhize said.
A calm Cele told The Sunday Independent yesterday that he wanted Zuma to decide “without me necessarily making statements that will put unnecessary pressure” on him.
However, it seems Cele’s hardened attitude followed a tense meeting between him and Zuma on Friday night in which the two tried to strike a deal. Part of the meeting agenda, according to a source, was to discuss Moloi’s scathing report.
Also at the centre of the meeting was how Cele could be remunerated for the remainder of his five-year contract, which was due to expire in 2014. Mkhize confirmed yesterday that Zuma and Cele had met on Friday.
“The meeting took place in Durban as scheduled. Unfortunately, I am not at liberty to disclose what was discussed at the meeting or confirm that the reason General Cele requested the meeting in the first place was so he could tender his resignation,” said Mkhize.
Mkhize said this past week that it was not a matter of whether Zuma dismissed Cele or not, but was about the “lopsided” approach employed by the board.
Mkhize insisted yesterday that Cele had not resigned.
“While the thought of resigning did cross his mind, he promptly ditched it when it became clear that this would cost him the opportunity of having the High Court expose the board of inquiry report for the fraud that it is,” said Mkhize.
Cele wants to declare Moloi’s report “legally unsound and invalid”.
“(Papers will be filed) as soon as an official decision is made as to whether the general keeps his job,” Mkhize said.
Two weeks ago, Mkhize said Cele would hand in his resignation the moment he was informed that he was being criminally investigated.
Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said he could neither confirm nor deny that the meeting took place. “It’s a rumour and speculation,” he said, refusing to elaborate.
Maharaj said he would not comment on Cele’s challenging Zuma’s decision and asked to be sent comments from Cele’s spokesman.
Regional ANC leaders said yesterday that they were ready to welcome Cele back into the “political fold”.
A regional chairman who would not speak on record until Zuma pronounced on his decision told Sunday Tribune yesterday that they wanted Cele to be “co-opted back into the national executive committee where he served before becoming police commissioner”.
“We feel he should be co-opted into the NEC as soon as possible. His passion, energy and clear direction could be better utilised in a political position,” he said.
Another leader said they would lobby the province for his re-election to the ANC NEC in Mangaung.
As Cele fights for his survival, The Sunday Independent understands that his acting successor, Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi, may be shown the door this month for – among other things – getting rid of embattled former crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli, seen as Zuma’s trusted lieutenant in the spy wars riddling the ANC ahead of its leadership conference in December.
Zuma is expected to be retained for a second term but may face a stiff challenge from either Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe or Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale, who was implicated in a document allegedly compiled by Mdluli as one of those plotting to topple Zuma. Sexwale wants the Mdluli report probed and allegations of abuse of state machinery to settle political scores investigated.
Police spokesman Lindela Mashigo – speaking for Mkhwanazi – said the national commissioner was acting and therefore would have to move as soon as a new commissioner was appointed.
There has been speculation around who is going to be the next top cop, with sources saying that Labour director-general Nkosinathi Nhleko is the front-runner.
Nhleko has denied the rumours.