Mkuseli Apleni in the High Court yesterday. Picture: Zelda Venter
DIRECTOR-general of Home Affairs Mkuseli Apleni vowed to be back at his post yesterday, shortly after the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, lifted his precautionary suspension.

A spontaneous clapping of hands from his supporters in the public gallery broke out seconds after Judge Hans Fabricius declared that former Minister of Home Affairs, Hlengiwe Mkhize, lacked the authority to suspend him.

The judge declared the suspension unconstitutional and of no force or effect. He also slapped the minister with the legal costs.

A beaming Apleni afterwards told the Pretoria News that he was delighted by the judgment and eager to go back to work.

“I want to serve the people.”

He thanked all the South Africans who gave him support and stood behind him, saying he was especially grateful that the court had pronounced on the issue that ministers did not have the power to suspend directors-general.

He said it was a pity that he had to turn to court to be vindicated. “What pains me is that this country has more Goliaths and less Davids.”

Apleni’s urgent legal bid to return to office was heard last week - the same day on which President Jacob Zuma appointed former minister of communications Ayanda Dlodlo as the new minister of Home Affairs.

Apleni was placed on precautionary suspension by former minister Hlengiwe Mkhize.

Judge Fabricius wanted to know at the time whether the cabinet reshuffle did not impact on the court proceedings and whether the issues would not be rendered moot if the new minister decided to lift the suspension.

Counsel for Apleni said that as things stood at the time, he was still on suspension and the court should go ahead with its judgment.

Fabricius commented that he was told two days after the hearing by Apleni’s counsel that the new minister would not interfere with the court process and that she would prefer to wait for the judgment before taking any particular decision in the matter.

Apleni said yesterday that he had not yet met with the new minister.

It was, meanwhile, earlier argued that one of the reasons provided for Apleni’s suspension was that he failed to give effect to a verbal instruction by the minister to settle the litigation between the department and Fireblade LTD, owned by the Oppenheimer family.

The court was told that Mkhize met personally with the Oppenheimer family and told them that the matter would be settled.

Another matter which concerned him regarded a financial dispute which her son Sizwe Mkhize had with the department. According to him, the minister also wanted this settled, although she denied any knowledge of the issue.

He said he feared that if he was not at the office dealing with these matters himself, the minister will settle these and other matters, which would not be in the public interest.

Apleni, in his application, said he suspected there were, however, other motives behind his suspension, but all in all he was left in the dark.

But it was argued on behalf of both Zuma and the minister that the president had delegated his powers to her. This was through former president Thabo Mbeki, who, in 1999, delegated some of his powers to the ministers responsible for each of the various departments. It was said that this arrangement had been in place for 17 years.

According to the minister she and Apleni also did not see eye to eye from the first day she walked into office. She accused him of undermining her authority.

Judge Fabricius found the letter by Mbeki, in which it was said he had delegated his powers, to be of no force. He said a copy of the letter presented to him in court was not signed by Mbeki, nor countersigned by another cabinet minister.

Apart from that, the Public Service Act, on which Mbeki relied when he delegated his powers, was repealed by the Public Service Amendment Act. It thus lost its force, the judge said.

“There is no evidence before me that President Mbeki signed such delegation or that it was signed by a cabinet member on that basis I therefore cannot find that it was a lawful delegation in terms of the constitution.”

He said that in light of this finding it was not necessary for him to pronounce on whether Apleni’s suspension was rational or not.