National Police Commissioner Bheki Cele has been drawn into a new controversy, this time involving the police investigation of political murders in Mpumalanga.
In an extraordinary tit-for-tat, Mpumalanga provincial commissioner Lieutenant General Thulani Ntobela and Mbombela municipality mayor Lassy Chiwayo have laid charges against each other.
Both charges appear to flow from conversations Chiwayo had with Cele and two of his top generals last week in which Chiwayo expressed concerns about the “bias” of police in Mpumalanga and the ability of Ntobela in “handling matters within Mbombela” given the “politically volatile complex situation in Mpumalanga”.
The conversations apparently took place on Thursday February 17 while Chiwayo was arranging for Wesselton community leader Bongani Phakathi to hand himself over to a senior policeman in Pretoria rather than to someone local.
Riots last week in Wesselton outside Ermelo were blamed in part on regional ANC leaders attempting to overrule the nomination of Phakathi to contest a ward in the coming local government elections.
Chiwayo raised his concerns with Cele just eight days after he had provided the national commissioner’s special Mpumalanga task team with a 138-page affidavit, detailing his knowledge of circumstances surrounding the murder of Mbombela municipal speaker Jimmy Mohlala.
Chiwayo apparently requested a meeting with Cele to continue the discussion but instead found the next day that Ntobela, who had not been party to the conversations, had laid charges of defamation against him.
Ntobela’s spokesperson, Lindela Mashigo, would not tell the Mail & Guardian who the claims had emanated from.
“The commissioner received information from people that the mayor has alleged that the commissioner was protecting certain people in the province. Statements are still going to be obtained about the mayor’s utterances. I cannot provide details of where the information comes from as the investigation is still to unfold.”
Chiwayo responded by laying countercharges of intimidation and defeating the ends of justice against Ntobela.
He also conveyed his shock to Cele at the apparent breach of confidence.
An SMS sent by Chiwayo to Cele and copied to the minister of police, Nathi Mthethwa, and other ANC members reads: “To my surprise & shock I was really disturbed tht flowing frm honest, frank & open ‘internal conversation’ a charge of crimean injuria [sic] & … defamation of character was opened against me. I send u a msg to tht effect hoping tht we cud still explore the internal route we both agreed on & I got no response.”
Cele’s spokesperson, Major General Nonkululeko Mbatha, said: “The request was in relation to Mpumalanga state of affairs. However, no specific proposed agenda items were received.” But she did not respond to questions about allegations involving Ntobela and Mohlala.
Both cases have since been referred to the Independent Complaints Directorate. Chiwayo, who was reluctant to speak to the M&G, said he feared for his life but had confidence that the ANC leadership would deal with the issues in Mpumalanga positively.
He has been at the forefront of those perceived as being critical of and rivals to Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza.
Chiwayo confirmed that he had sent an SMS to Cele and other people but would not reveal its content.
“I have outlined in my affidavit a situation like that of godfathers — a small group of greedy people with an excitable appetite for money using various companies to front for tenders. This group wants to place their own people in strategic government positions to influence tender adjudication.”
In 2009 the ANC national working committee set up a task team to investigate the political divisions and instability that arose after the 2008 Mpumalanga provincial conference
where Mabuza defeated Chiwayo.
It comprised Fikile Mbalula, the minister of sports, culture and recreation, and Malusi Gigaba, the minister of public enterprise.
Gwede Mantashe, the ANC secretary general, said that their investigations had been completed and a report was presented to the national executive committee.
But he would not confirm or deny reports that the party had appointed a new task team led by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.
Five suspects, Musa Mkhabela, Dumisani Mhlanga, Jenny Mabika, Sakhile Mabika and Moses Mahungela, are due to appear in court on Monday on charges relating to Mohlala’s death.
This article was produced by amaBhungane, investigators of the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit initiative to enhance capacity for investigative journalism in the public interest. www.amabhungane.co.za.