ISS Africa
Home / Publications / Publication archives / CPRA Daily Briefing / South Africa: Cele and Mdluli's suspension
South Africa: Cele and Mdluli's suspension
29 May 2012

The Board of Inquiry into suspended South African National Police Commissioner Bheki Cele`s fitness to hold office has recommended that he be removed from his post. The Board`s report has been handed to President Jacob Zuma and he is currently processing the recommendations on the necessary course of action. There is no real difference between the findings by the Board and those put forward by the Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela. In fact, the Board had less power to investigate than the Public Protector did in that it could not subpoena witnesses. It could be argued that the Board was a waste of taxpayers` money. The Public Protector`s investigation found that Cele and former Minister of Public Works Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde were guilty of maladministration and had acted unlawfully in relation to the R1.67 billion police headquarter lease deal. The appropriate course of action by the President following the release of the Public Protector`s report would have been to refer the matter for a forensic criminal investigation to establish why a cabinet minister and the chief of police had ignored warnings by their subordinates and repeatedly violated both procurement procedures and the law to ensure that businessman Roux Shabangu was awarded the lucrative tender. 

This crooked tender deal became headline news when the Sunday Times newspaper reported on it at the beginning of August 2010. This led to a probe by the Public Protector, which found that Cele was involved in maladministration and had acted unlawfully, and recommended that ‘appropriate action` be taken without being specific. After four months Zuma removed Mahlangu-Nkabinde from her cabinet position, suspended Cele, and appointed a Board of Inquiry to again investigate the allegations made against Cele. The Board has now recommended that Cele be fired and that a criminal investigation takes place into why this deal went ahead in the way that it did.

The Board`s report has been handed to the President, but it still remains to be seen if anything will come from its recommendations. It is unlikely that Zuma will open a criminal investigation into the matter as to date not a single national ANC politician or government official has been subjected to any criminal justice sanction in spite of evidence of corruption and wrongdoing. The worst that will probably happen is that they may be probed by the Public Protector or the Auditor General, who has limited capacity to undertake investigations into corruption and therefore is not in a position to refer matters for prosecution. As it has become apparent that there is little sanction for engaging in corruption if politically connected, various forms of commercial crimes are on the rise. It is for this reason that South Africa dropped ten places on the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index from 54th position in 2010 to 64th in 2011 out of 182 countries.

The Cele case, along with the controversy over the national head of Police Crime Intelligence Richard Mdluli, who is accused of a wide range of serious crimes including murder and corruption, has revealed a key problem within the security governance of the current administration. People are not appointed to these sensitive and powerful positions because of their expertise, skill, integrity and desire to uphold South Africa`s constitution. Rather, most senior appointments in the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the South African Police Service (SAPS) are made on the basis of personal loyalty to Zuma and his inner circle. Consequently, when it becomes clear that they are entirely unsuited to their positions, the President is hesitant to act quickly and decisively to prevent serious damage being done to the credibility of these important state institutions. There is little in this regard to distinguish Zuma from former president Thabo Mbeki, who tried and failed to protect his friend and then Chief of Police, the disgraced Jackie Selebi. Mbeki went as far as firing then head of the NPA Vusi Pikoli, who was later found by a commission of inquiry to have acted with integrity in line with the constitutional requirements of his job when he disobeyed Mbeki`s questionable instruction not to arrest Selebi on corruption charges.

The current acting national Police Commissioner, Nhlanhla Mkwanazi, was unhappy with the political interference allegedly from the Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa, who ordered him to reinstate Mdluli and halt all internal disciplinary and criminal investigations into the allegations against him. When the non-governmental organisation Freedom Under Law (FUL) took legal action to review the decision to lift the criminal charges against and the suspension of Mdluli, Mkwanazi decided to act and re-suspended Mdluli. However, this might mean the end of Mkwanazi`s tenure as acting National Police Commissioner. Mkwanazi`s independent decision making, which seems based on evidence rather than allegiance, may be seen as an obstacle to Zuma, who has made it clear that he seeks a second term as ANC president. Therefore, Zuma may want to appoint a candidate who will be more loyal to him and those he may wish to protect from any criminal sanction. The Director General of Labour, Nkosinathi Nhleko, who had fallen out with Mbeki as ANC Chief Whip in 2004 and joined the Zuma camp, has been named as a favourite for the position. However, once again appointing a political loyalist with no policing experience is unlikely to result in the SAPS being given the leadership required for it to transform into a professional organisation that serves all South Africans fairly and within the boundaries of the law. 

Compiled by the Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis Division based on the contribution of Mr Gareth Newham, from the Crime and Justice Division, ISS Pretoria