Shanti Aboobaker and Gaye Davis
AS opposition parties welcomed the suspension of crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli yesterday, Parliament’s police oversight committee said it backed the actions of SA’s acting top cop, Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi.
The vote of support from the chairwoman of the national assembly’s committee on police, ANC MP Sindi Chikunga, comes after media speculation that President Jacob Zuma is keen to replace Mkhwanazi with labour director-general Nathi Nhleko.
Mkhwanazi, who has been lauded for showing resistance to alleged political interference in the police force, is acting in the place of suspended top cop Bheki Cele.
Cele has been found unfit for office by a judicial board of inquiry set up by Zuma, according to weekend reports. The three-person board of inquiry, chaired by Judge Jake Moloi, briefed Zuma on its findings on May 20.
Sunday newspapers reported that the report, while damning of Cele, also pointed to a much wider problem of dishonesty and cover-ups among other top officials in both the police and public works departments.
Spokespersons for the SAPS and Public Works were reluctant to comment on the basis that the report had not yet been officially released.
Presidency spokesman Mac Maharaj told The Star: “I can’t go into the contents of a leaked report. I can confirm the president has the report.
“He is aware of the urgency and seriousness of the matter. To make any comment would mean I know his thoughts. He will publicly respond, but he will do it in the proper way,” Maharaj said.
Cele has indicated he intends challenging the board’s findings in court, accusing the government of a “stitch-up”.
Chikunga said it was difficult to comment on the report as she had not yet seen it.
“General Cele is suspended currently by the president, and there is an acting national police commissioner, so it would make it difficult to call Cele before the committee because that would in fact bring him back to work,” Chikunga said.
“Once the report has been released, we definitely will call on (the senior officials implicated) to come before the committee, but I don’t want to pre-empt anything. If the report is naming other people for maladministration – or anything – it would be of interest to know what happened and why.”
The report implicates senior police officials and public works employees in tender irregularities, with SAPS chief operations officer Christine Mgwenya, its chief legal officer, Julius Molefe, and KwaZulu-Natal police commissioner Mmamonnye Ngobeni all named.
Referring to Mdluli, Chikunga said her committee backed Mkhwanazi in “whatever decisions he may make”.
“I am in constant contact with the national commissioner on what is happening. The committee and the ANC caucus pledged support for the acting police commissioner for whatever decisions he may make, at a time when we think there’s something the (police) department should do,” she said.
DA spokeswoman on police Dianne Kohler Barnard said Mkhwanazi’s stance on Mdluli could increase the likelihood of his being replaced.
She said “the speed with which Mkhwanazi is now removed from his position as acting national police commissioner will tell South Africans exactly how seriously the current government takes the fight against crime and the need to put clear blue water between the criminals and SAPS members”.
She congratulated Mkhwanazi “for standing up to politicians” and suspending Mdluli again.
“Mkhwanazi allegedly went head-to-head with Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa by signing off on Mdluli’s suspension letter and ignoring the politicians who allegedly reinstated him,” she said.
“(Mthethwa) made one of the weakest moves in our young democracy by shifting Mdluli sideways to retain him within the SAPS following the intense political and public pressure brought to bear on him by the DA and civil society.
“Today our free media inform us that (Mkhwanazi), in possibly the most heroic move of his now shortened career in this position, has had Mdluli locked out of any and all SAPS buildings as well as stripping him of all SAPS equipment and keys,” Kohler Barnard said.
Mdluli’s latest suspension comes in the wake of allegations of the SAPS secret service fund being looted.
Kohler Barnard praised Mkhwanazi for acting swiftly in shifting “all administration staff in charge of the R300 million slush fund and (replacing) them with 12 new employees”.
She called for Mdluli to be criminally charged, saying he should have his day in court to answer to the raft of allegations of criminal conduct against him.
She also said that if Nhleko, a former ANC chief whip, was appointed by Zuma to replace Cele, it would not “bode well for the SAPS, who have been virtually crippled at the top leadership level by two successive disgraced police commissioners”.
Cele’s predecessor, Jackie Selebi, is in jail after being convicted on corruption charges.
“The appointment of advocate Nhleko, another career politician with no experience in the police, would be beyond disastrous. The SAPS must be run by a career officer who has the strength to run the service as it should be,” she said.
African Christian Democratic party MP and spokesman on police Steve Swart also welcomed Mdluli’s suspension, but questioned why Mthethwa had reinstated him after his previous suspension.
“It was only after a court application was launched by Freedom Under Law that moves to again suspend Mdluli were initiated. This is a cause of great concern,” Swart said.
He said the ACDP was extremely concerned about the criminal justice system.
Not only did Cele face a damning report against him that should lead to his dismissal, but prosecutions boss Menzi Simelane was on special leave.
“The fitness of both men to hold office has been brought into question,” he said.
Swart said this showed the danger of “making political appointments to high-ranking prosecutorial and police posts”.
“Such high-ranking officials are there to serve and protect the citizens and not the political whims or presidential ambitions of any person,” he said.
The head of crime and policing at the Institute for Security Studies, Gareth Newham, said Mdluli’s suspension was “one small step in a lengthy process”.
“His suspension is welcomed but there’s still a long way to go before the damage can be rectified,” he said.
Meanwhile, Public Works spokesman Thami Mchunu said newly appointed Minister Thulas Nxesi was serious about reversing a department mired with corruption.