National

Phiyega sends deputies packing

Sally Evans & Zwanga Mukhuthu

Two senior, qualified Lieutenant Generals axed amid claims that their dismissals are linked to the case of suspended intelligence boss Richard Mdluli

National police commissioner Riah Phiyega (Madelene Cronje)

National police commissioner Riah Phiyega has axed two experienced and highly qualified deputies, despite their claims that she has no legal grounds for doing so.

Phiyega sent former deputy commissioners Lieutenant General Godfrey Lebeya and Lieutenant General Leah Mofomme packing last month, after an earlier attempt to dismiss them was halted by the Johannesburg Labour Court in March.

The dismissals have given rise to speculation that other dynamics are at play.

Some law enforcement sources see them as a wider move by Phiyega to root out people who were close to her predecessor Bheki Cele or as a form of retribution against those officers perceived to have played a role in bringing down suspended crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli.

On the other side however, there are some within the police who see this as continued wrangling by Moffome and Lebeya as a strategy for getting bigger severance payouts.

This week, both Mofomme and Lebeya claimed that the commissioner’s subsequent move to dismiss them in May was in contempt of the Labour Court order. The court instructed Phiyega to engage in a consultation process with them, as their dismissals were  “procedurally unfair”.

They were allegedly fired because they “opted” not to accept new positions Phiyega offered them.

Mofomme and Lebeya deny this. Both argue that they accepted the positions, but questioned Phiyega on whether this amounted to a demotion.

Reshuffle casualties 
In September last year Mofomme and Lebeya were the main casualties of a management restructuring process implemented by Phiyega, which cut the number of deputies from six to three.

The two were appointed deputy commissioners by Cele in 2011.

Lebeya and Mofomme have decades of experience in the police service, and both have doctoral degrees.

Phiyega has stated that the change was part of streamlining the police’s top management structures. 

However a police source with insight into the reshuffle told amaBhungane that Phiyega had “changed the (management) structure so that the existing deputies have no posts. She then created new posts without doing a work study to place them, because they did nothing wrong.”

But another source, closely linked to police management, has an opposing view. The source alleged this week that Lebeya’s real interest lay in engineering a big severance payout under section 35 of the SAPS Act on the basis that he had been unfairly demoted.

The Mdluli connection
Lebeya, who previously headed crime detection, also oversaw the internal police investigation into the alleged maladministration of the crime intelligence division.

Mdluli, suspended by Cele in 2011, was one of several senior intelligence officials charged for allegedly personally benefiting from crime intelligence’s secret service account.

After Phiyega removed Lebeya as a deputy commissioner last year, he was offered the job of running a police research institute, which had yet to be formed.

Mofomme, who also previously held a key position as head of the police’s physical resource management, was offered the position of head of the SAPS Education Trust.

The first police source noted that “all the generals who were alleged to be conspiring against Mdluli have now been sorted out. Cele is out, Petros retired, Dramat disempowered and Lebeya dismissed.”

The four – Cele, former Gauteng provincial police commissioner Mzwandile Petros, Hawks commander Anwa Dramat and Lebeya – were named in a November 2011 letter by Mdluli to President Jacob Zuma as members of a group “working together” to unseat him as head of crime intelligence.

Mdluli, SAPS and the National Prosecuting Authority lost an appeal in the Supreme Court of Appeal in April to overturn a High Court ruling ordering that internal disciplinary charges, as well as fraud and corruption charges, should proceed against Mdluli.

Although media reports claimed this week that Mdluli might be recharged “any day”, the matter appears to be in flux.

This week Lebeya said that he had received his letter of dismissal a fortnight after celebrating 30 years of police service.

Phiyega’s mind made up
He received another blow last week when, on a technicality, the Labour Court struck off the roll his urgent application for Phiyega to be found in contempt of the court’s March order that she consult him.

Phiyega’s deputy commissioner, Lieutenant General Christabel Mbekela, told the court in a responding affidavit: “Consultations cannot go on forever. The meetings took place, a decision was taken. That should conclude the matter.”

Mbekela added that while Lebeya “may not like the outcome of the consultations” Phiyega took a decision “as she is entitled by law to do”.

But Lebeya told amaBhungane that despite scrutinising “each and every SAPS law and policy” he could not find which law was used to dismiss him. “What wrong have I done? Clearly if I have done wrong, a body should be set up to determine my fitness for office.

“There are rules and regulations to follow. The commissioner has gone out of her way to trample on these rules to fire me illegally.”

Mofomme told amaBhungane that Phiyega had only met her twice since the March Labour Court judgement: to put her on special leave and to tell her she had been dismissed.

“My position is that the latest dismissal was done in the same way as the first. I approached the court to reverse the decision and won, but nothing has changed,” Mofomme told amaBhungane.

But Phiyega’s spokesman, Solomon Makgale challenged this, saying the two deputies were offered important and much-needed functions. He said it was a “pity” they chose not to accept management’s offer and instead “wanted things on their own terms”.

Makgale added that there had been no question of a demotion because the two would have retained their ranks, benefits and salaries.

“The commissioner has said she doesn’t want to lose anyone. The task ahead is massive and requires all hands on deck.

 “The discussions had gone on for six months. It was not desirable for them to go on indefinitely,” Makgale said.

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.

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