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Bheki Cele is unfit for office and has been so for more than a decade

By Paul Hoffman

14 Jul 2022

Paul Hoffman SC is a director of Accountability Now.

The police minister lives a life of impunity. He is notorious for going to war with senior members of police management. And there has been no known progress on the NPA’s investigation of the alleged or suspected criminality and corruption of Cele.

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The intemperate outburst by Minister of Police Bheki Cele at a public meeting in Gugulethu last week deserves censure. The minister is clearly not fit for the high office he occupies and should be relieved of his duties by the President without dither or delay.

The unfitness for office of Cele has a long history. He was the butt of a Sunday Times front-page story more than a decade ago in which the negotiation of leases for police headquarters in Durban and Pretoria at three times the going rental rates came into focus in public for the first time. This coverage elicited complaints to the Office of the Public Protector (OPP) which produced two reports on the newspaper story called “Against the Rules” and “Against the Rules too”.

The Public Protector, then Thuli Madonsela, recommended to the president, then Jacob Zuma, that his national commissioner of police, then Bheki Cele, should face a board of inquiry into his fitness for office arising out of his involvement in the negotiation of the leases in question.

The Moloi Board of Inquiry was duly convened, heard the evidence its narrow mandate allowed it to receive and duly recommended that Cele be dismissed for what it found to be his dishonesty and incompetence. Cele was dismissed by Zuma. He soon resurfaced as a politician and was appointed as a deputy Cabinet minister by the self-same Zuma who had dismissed him as police chief. He occupies the role of minister of police in the Ramaphosa Cabinet of today, having been so appointed at the inception of the Ramaphosa presidency in 2018.

A further recommendation of the Moloi Board of Inquiry, chaired by the late Justice Jake Moloi, has apparently not received the necessary attention. It was recommended that the appropriate authorities investigate the involvement of Cele in corrupt activities. The Moloi board could not do so as it did not have the power to subpoena, among others, Roux Shabangu, the property developer involved in the police headquarters deals at crookedly inflated cost to the taxpayer.

As far as has hitherto been determined, this criminal investigation recommendation by the Moloi board was not acted on at all. Indeed, upon and after her appointment, the current National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP), Shamila Batohi, was not aware of the Moloi recommendation as she had been living and working in The Hague at all relevant prior times.

Batohi, upon first hearing of the matter in 2020, promptly referred the suspicion of corruption to the then head of the National Prosecuting Authority’s Investigating Directorate (ID), Hermione Cronjé, for follow-up investigation. This first step was taken after the Moloi board recommendation was drawn to the NPA’s attention during a public engagement in cyberspace which she very properly arranged with civil society organisations in 2020.

No prosecution against Cele has ensued.

In March 2021 Accountability Now wrote to the NPA requesting a report on progress in this matter and others.

Here is the text of the email dated 16 March 2021:

Greetings,

According to a report in Legalbrief this morning:

Batohi defended the NPA pursuing only the officials, saying their decisions were based on evidence, according to the TimesLIVE report: ‘We do not target individuals but we certainly follow the evidence and that is really important because we are not politicians and are not here to play political games,’ said Batohi. ‘What we are here to do is to ensure that those who have plundered our government resources are held to account no matter which part of the political spectrum they belong to.’

The sentiments so expressed align perfectly with the constitutional obligation of the NPA to act without fear, favour or prejudice.

A year has elapsed since the NDPP asked the ID to look into allegations of corruption against former National Commissioner of Police, now Minister of Police Bheki Cele. During that year we have fed the ID with the Moloi Board of Inquiry report which found Cele to be incompetent and dishonest. We have also referred the ID to the reports of the OPP called “Against the Rules” and “Against the Rules Too” in which the irregularities in the SAPS HQ leases are traversed. We have not been asked for further information. Indeed, we have never had any report on progress from the ID on any matter we have referred to the ID. Only an irritable buck-pass to the SCCU in the Seth Nthai case, which also appears to be becalmed, and complete silence on prosecuting Jacob Zuma for decapitating the NPA by sidelining Mxolisi Nxasana, a complaint that dates back to 2015.

The Justice Portfolio Committee has been asked to look into the long delays, but it has other fish to fry in 2021.

Please be so good as to furnish a report on progress in all three matters alluded to above. It could save the NPA a lot of trouble in the future.

Yours in accountability…

The prosecution of Seth Nthai is, at long last, under way after the Supreme Court of Appeal expressed surprise at the failure of the NPA to prosecute him for soliciting a bribe. In the Nxasana matter, an offer of the services of senior counsel at discounted rates to run the proposed trial against Zuma has been met with stony silence from the NPA.

Read in Daily Maverick: “It’s not ‘now or never’ for the NPA; it’s never ever

Cele lives a life of impunity. He hankers after his role as chief of police, likes being called general, often wears military-style regalia and ignores the National Development Plan and Marikana Commission recommendations that the police be urgently demilitarised. He does so despite the acceptance by the government of both sets of recommendations. He is notorious for going to war with senior members of police management.

No word on NPA probe

There has been no known progress on the NPA’s investigation of the alleged or suspected criminality and corruption of Cele, nor has Cronjé or her successor, Andrea Johnson, ever responded to any inquiry, along the lines of that quoted above, made in relation to progress in the matter.

The expert evidence presented to court in Glenister II and obtained from Gareth Newham of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) as well as Professor Gavin Woods of Stellenbosch University, has been made available to Cronjé by Accountability Now. The evidence is in part relevant to the investigation of Cele.

The preceding paragraphs of this article were made available to the Deputy National Director of Public Prosecutions, Advocate Anton du Plessis, who is tasked with NPA Operations, Strategy and Compliance, in advance of publication. His prompt reply consisted of a referral of the matter to the spokesperson of the NPA, Mthunzi Mhaga. His email pointed out in edifying terms that:

“Kindly note that we have previously written to the previous head of the ID requesting progress reports on the matter without no success. (sic)  

“We have however escalated matter to the current ID for a progress report. She will communicate with you accordingly.

“Please accept our apology with the delay in attending to the matter.”

And there the matter rests and has rested since Monday, 11 February 2022.

It is not without significance that top policewoman Francinah Vuma has taken her problems with Cele to the media. Cele appears, according to her, to still favour certain companies as preferred recipients of the largesse of police procurement. This attitude is in direct contravention of the Public Finance Management Act and the provisions of section 217 of the Constitution. It involves the same mischief as was identified by the OPP and the Moloi Inquiry in relation to the police headquarters leases negotiated with Roux Shabangu.

Action Society, whose Ian Cameron was on the receiving end of the Cele tirade and was forcibly ejected from the public meeting by Cele’s police, has laid criminal charges. Here’s hoping that those charges are dealt with diligently and without delay, and not in the manner the ID has dealt, since 2020, with the more serious matters against Cele arising from the investigations of the OPP and the Moloi Board of Inquiry.

Should Advocate Johnson respond, her reply will be added to this article. DM

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