Public Protector loses another court battle – this time to Bheki Cele
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Durban - Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has lost another court battle over one of her findings.
On Wednesday, the North Gauteng High Court ruled her finding that said the South African Police Service must offer protection to two whistle-blowers from KwaZulu-Natal, Thabiso Zulu and Lesley Stuta, be declared invalid and set aside.
Public protector spokesperson, Oupa Segwale was unaware of the court ruling when IOL called him on Thursday morning but promised to respond to it later in the day.
Acting on behalf of Zulu, the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) approached the North Gauteng High Court in an attempt to force Cele to provide state-paid protection for Zulu, who survived his gunshot wounds, while he was hiding in Pietermaritzburg in October last year.
Zulu and Stuta were witnesses in Mkhwebane's investigation into alleged multi-million rand corruption in the UMzimkhulu local municipality.
In August 2018‚ a report by Mkhwebane accused the Minister of Police Bheki Cele, of gross negligence, improper conduct and maladministration.
This, for what she termed "failure’' by Cele and the SAPS, to protect the lives Zulu and Stuta.
The report claimed there had been "undue delay" on the part of Cele and the police, in providing personal protection to the two men who were living in fear for their lives.
In the report, Mkhwebane stated Cele and the police's failure to act exposed the duo to assassination attempts.
She ordered the president "reprimand" Cele, for what she termed a "lapse in judgement".
In a statement on Thursday, Police Ministry spokesperson Lirandzu Themba said Cele has always been vocal about his serious reservations on the findings and proposed remedial actions by the office of the Public Protector.
"This is the very reason why he decided to take the report under Judicial review," she said.
"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. In a separate but related matter, the same court granted an order on the 26 of March, which stated that Thabiso Zulu is only entitled to witness protection, provided by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development and not the SAPS," Lirandzu said.
In light of that ruling, the judicial review concluded the Public Protector’s report should be declared invalid and set aside.
Cele welcomed the ruling's outcome.
“The turn of events has vindicated the South African Police Service and restored its integrity, especially since the Public Protector’s report swayed public opinion to come across as if the SAPS was simply dragging its feet in protecting whistleblowers,” he said.
Cele has called on the office of the Public Protector to exercise due diligence in her findings, especially pertaining to structures of government.
“It has always been clear that while protection of witnesses is paramount, it remains the sole responsibility of the National Prosecution Authority as stated in the Witness Protection Act. The Public Protector should have known this,” Cele said.
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.