Don't hold your breath for action on Cele findings

If you are expecting President Jacob Zuma to act on the public protector’s findings against General Bheki Cele you might be in for a long wait.

This is not only because of Zuma’s close relationship with Cele but also because both Cele and Public Works Minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde, against whom the public protector recommended action, are convinced that the protector has not applied her mind properly and that her findings could be overturned in court.

Cele is convinced that Thuli Madonsela was wrong to find him guilty of matters relating to procurement when that is not his responsibility.

Advisers to Cele say Madonsela appears to believe that procurement straddles public works and the South African Police Service when it is, in fact, a public works responsibility.

The public protector has instructed the minister of police to act on Cele and Cabinet to act on the public works minister for proceeding with the police headquarters lease in spite of the protector asking Mahlangu-Nkabinde to hold off.

But instead of acting on her recommendations Cabinet has instructed Justice Minister Jeff Radebe and Cabinet secretary Cassius Lubisi to engage Madonsela on her findings, which could be interpreted as political intervention.

Madonsela this week expressed frustration that Cabinet had adopted this unusual route instead of implementing her recommendations.

Mahlangu-Nkabinde has asked Madonsela to revisit her findings, calling them “shallow and superficial”.

Deliberately ignored information
The Star reported this week on the minister’s accusation that the protector deliberately ignored information given to her and deliberately looked for evidence to discredit the department. Cele met Zuma before the public protector released her report and it is evident that he is confident that when the dust settles he will emerge cleansed and Madonsela will be left with egg on her face.

Cele was considered one of President Jacob Zuma’s key backers in the succession battle that raged within the ANC from 2005 until its elective conference in Polokwane in 2007.

His professional trajectory to his current position has meant that he has much less organisational influence in the internal workings of the eThekwini region he once chaired—the ANC’s most powerful region in the country in terms of sheer numbers—and so on voting delegates come conference time.

But he has become valuable to the president in articulating Zuma’s crime-fighting vision.

Said an ANC provincial executive committee member: “If you read the president’s messages leading up to the [2009] elections, he was clear about his idea of what he wanted the police to be: a mature, visible police force that brought back its fear factor. Bheki had that projection.

“His value to the president now is the job that he is doing.
The image that he is portraying to ordinary citizens is one that says the police must be feared and respected,” said the member.

It is believed that Zuma regards Cele as one of his finest performers in government. When Cele got married last year, Zuma is said to have cleared his diary to attend the wedding, where he spoke to the newlyweds.

The Mail & Guardian understands that Zuma’s decision to appoint Cele as police chief was more or less his own and was made in spite of Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa’s reservations about their working relationship in relation to issues of seniority within the party. Cele would have to report to Mthethwa in spite of the latter being his junior within the ANC.

Provincial ANC insiders concur that Zuma went with Cele because of their long relationship within the movement and the “trust” the president had in their shared ideas on how to combat crime.

Rapule Tabane

Rapule Tabane

Rapule Tabane is the Mail & Guardian's politics editor. He sometimes worries that he is a sports fanatic, but is in fact just crazy about Orlando Pirates. While he used to love reading only fiction, he is now gradually starting to enjoy political biographies. He was a big fan of Barack Obama, but now accepts that even he is only mortal. Read more from Rapule Tabane

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