South Africa

SAPS IN CRISIS: Minister of Police Bheki Cele tells Parliament he was unaware of Sitole ‘grabber’ court case finding

Illustrative image | Sources: National Police Commissioner General Khehla Sitole. (Photo: Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Deaan Vivier) | South African police minister Bheki Cele (Photo: EPA-EFE / Nic Bothma) | Leila Dougan | Adobe Stock

Minister of Police Bheki Cele has told Parliament’s police committee he knew ‘nothing’ about a high court ruling that his national commissioner had been in breach of his duties while Khehla Sitole, in turn, said any talk of his resignation was ‘premature’.

The two most senior leaders in the country’s law enforcement cluster, who have been at each other’s throats for some time, appeared virtually before the committee on Thursday, 29 July in the aftermath of a massive intelligence failure after the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma on 7 July led to violence and looting.

More than 300 deaths were recorded during nine days of volatile unrest across the country which saw shops, malls, cars, trucks and warehouses vandalised, looted and set alight as supporters of the former president went on a rampage in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

On Wednesday, 28 July Daily Maverick reported that the Supreme Court of Appeal had, on 30 June, dismissed an application by Sitole and two of his deputies to appeal against a scathing judgment handed down by the Gauteng High Court in January.

Appeal court confirms Khehla Sitole’s ‘breach of duty’ – his job as head of SAPS now untenable

Back then, Judge Norman Davis found that Sitole and his two deputies, Francinah Vuma and Lebeoana Tsumani, had placed the interests of the governing party, the ANC, ahead of those of the country and had thus been in breach of their duties.

“I know nothing about this thing. Nothing about the original case or when it was decided. I know nothing about when it was appealed the first time, the second time. I know nothing about the results. I only knew yesterday by chance that a decision was made on the 30th,” Cele told chair Tina Joemat-Pettersson.

Cele, while he might claim to know nothing about the merits of the original case, did, however, reveal on Wednesday that the matter would set the SAPS back about R1.8-million in legal fees.

Sitole, on the other hand, in reply to a question, told the committee that he had no plans to resign.

He also intimated that the high court had made an “incorrect” finding on the attempted illegal procurement of a R45-million grabber before the ruling party’s elective conference in December 2017 and which was caught on CCTV.

“I want to indicate that myself and two deputy commissioners were cleared by the Inspector-General on this matter. The matter is based on the declassification of documents. Evidence by the IG was not taken into account. There was no grabber, there was no procurement,” said the national police commissioner.

The matter, he added, was “under review”, without disclosing by whom or which body.

What is puzzling is that Sitole and his management team had not once referred to this apparent “exoneration” by the Inspector-General in any of their affidavits in response to the court case brought by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid).

Sitole was also disingenuous in claiming “no procurement happened” as it was only after Ipid had discovered the illegal deal by Crime Intelligence and had tipped off the national commissioner that he canned it.

Pettersson told both leaders that “it is clear you have instability” and that SAPS management had been slow to implement court decisions.

“Why are we having all these court cases? Why are we not implementing it?” she said, adding that “your presentations are always late” and that this undermined the oversight role of the committee.

Sitole also said that his appointment of Lieutenant-General Yolisa Mokgabudi as acting head of the Crime Intelligence was still being ratified. 

Daily Maverick reported on 25 July that Mokgabudi had been absent from her post between 31 May and 21 June, crucial months in the lead-up to the unrest.

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Cele has challenged Sitole’s appointment of Mokgabudi while matters involving the former suspended head, Peter Jacobs, were making their way through the courts.

“I have a meeting with the commissioner on Monday,” he said, adding that “until the courts tell us what to do” no permanent appointment should be made.

“What if the court finds that you have erred and that you must fix it and take him back and all that. I am on the jittery side to finalise when court processes are not finalised.”

Both men, however, were insistent that “we are not fighting, we work together” and that there was no “chaos”. DM

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