Public protector hits back at Bheki Cele and his 'snide remarks'
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Durban - Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has hit out at Minister of Police Bheki Cele, suggesting she does exercise due diligence in her investigations after North Gauteng High Court set aside her finding that the South African Police Service must offer protection to two whistle-blowers from KwaZulu-Natal, Thabiso Zulu and Lesley Stuta.
The judgment was made on Wednesday after the two parties squared off over the the provision of police protection of the two men who were witnesses in Mkhwebane's investigation into alleged multi-million rand corruption in the uMzimkhulu local municipality.
On Thursday, Cele's spokesperson, Lirandzu Themba released a statement praising the court outcome, saying that "In what is becoming a familiar sight, yet another court has declared a report by the Public Protector invalid. This time, the North Gauteng high court has found the Public Protector to have misdirected herself, in saying the South African Police Service should provide personal protection to the two witnesses".
Mkhwebane's office, however, said the court order was obtained by consent.
"The order means the public protector and the minister reached a voluntary agreement to settle the matter without the public protector conceding the merits of the minister’s application," Public Protector spokesperson, Oupa Segwale said.
"Wednesday’s consent order came as a result of Mr. Zulu having approached the court on an urgent basis, in separate proceedings, in March 2020, requesting protection from the minister as per the public protector’s report. He was granted the relief he sought except that such relief had to come from the National Prosecution Authority. This rendered matter between the minister and the public protector academic, hence the consent order," he said.
Segwale said the separate cases brought by the minister and Zulu did not traverse the merits of the Public Protector’s case.
"Accordingly, the public protector still holds the strong view that the constitutional duty to provide safety and security to citizens rests with the SAPS. The public protector takes exception to snide remarks contained in a media statement by the SAPS, suggesting that she does not exercise due diligence when conducting investigations. In March 2019, the minister addressed a public event in Mamelodi where he took a swipe at the public protector in relation to the matter at hand, saying Adv. Mkhwebane 'uyaphapha' (being forward or nosey)".
Segwale added: "The minister’s attention is hereby drawn to last’s week’s Constitutional Court ruling in which the justices on the bench unanimously cautioned that: “To mount a bad faith attack on [the Public Protector’s office] would surely work to undermine the constitutional project of the republic”.
Both Zulu and Stuta had previously testified before the Moerane Commission of Inquiry into the killing of politicians in the province.
In the fight against alleged corrupt activities in Umzimkhulu Municipality and Harry Gwala District Municipality, Zulu and Stuta worked with proportional representation councillor Sindiso Magaqa, a former ANC Youth League secretary-general, who was shot and later died in hospital in 2017.
Magaqa’s murder was linked to him exposing alleged shady dealings in the refurbishment of Umzimkhulu Memorial Hall, the cost of which escalated from the initial R4 million to R16m, but the work remained incomplete five years later.