Pretoria - Police Minister Nathi Nhleko did not have the authority to suspend Hawks boss Anwa Dramat, the High Court in Pretoria heard on Monday.
“It is simply a case of unlawful conduct by the minister and we ask that the court intervenes,” David Unterhalter SC, for the Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF) said.
He said the timing of Nhleko's actions were suspicious.
“It is rather extraordinary that he is said to be deeply worried but he waited for months after being appointed (police minister). That is inexplicable,” said Unterhalter.
He said the law stipulated that the head of the crime combating unit could only be suspended following a parliamentary process.
“According to the SA Police Service Act, the minister does not have that power,” said Unterhalter.
“The minister has no option but to follow the parliamentary processes and in this case he has not done so.”
HSF wants the court to set aside Nhleko's decision to suspend Dramat and appoint an acting head Maj-Gen Ntlemeza in his place.
On December 23, Dramat was suspended, apparently pending a probe into his alleged involvement in the illegal rendition of four Zimbabweans in November 2010.
HSF maintains the wording of the SA Police Service Act of 1995, in terms of which the minister purportedly made the decision, had been struck down by the Constitutional Court, making Dramat's suspension invalid.
Unterhalter argued previously that the “decapitation” of the head of such a critically important crime and corruption fighting unit was gravely damaging to his office and public confidence in the independence of the unit.
“The longer this (unlawful action) goes on, the worse the damage becomes,” he said.
Dramat said in an affidavit he was aware that certain sensitive investigations might be closed down or shifted.
“...The public wants to know this institution is free from political interference,” he said.
Unterhalter argued that if the minister was allowed to put someone more to his liking in the position it meant top officials could be suspended on short notice if they incurred the wrath of the minister.
“Every day that goes by is another day where the public says this is another failed institution,” he argued.