The blame game plays out in Cele hearing

A witness in the misconduct hearing against suspended police chief Bheki Cele did not know who had identified a building earmarked for the police’s new offices in Durban, the inquiry heard on Wednesday.

Irene Nel, a senior public works department official, derailed an earlier promise by evidence leader Viwe Notshe that she would testify that Cele identified the building.

“I don’t know who from the South African Police Service [SAPS] identified the building,” admitted Nel during questioning by Cele’s attorney Vincent Maleka.

Maleka responded: “I am glad you don’t know because someone suggested at the opening of the inquiry that it is General Cele who identified the building.”

Questioning surrounded compliance or non-compliance with supply-chain management prescripts in a planned lease for the Transnet building in Durban.

The cross-examination drew snide remarks from the defence.

Voicing concerns
Maleka focused on an email written by Nel in 2010 in which she voiced concerns that police had already identified the Transnet building as alternative accommodation—a job which fell under the duties of the public works department.

Cele was suspended by President Jacob Zuma in October last year, after public protector Thuli Madonsela found that the flamboyant police commissioner had acted unlawfully during the procurement of two leases—the Sanlam-Middestad building in Pretoria and the Transnet Towers in Durban—valued at R1.6-billion.

According to Madonsela’s investigation, both leases favoured property vendor Roux Shabangu.

The inquiry, in its third day, is hearing evidence to determine whether Cele acted corruptly or dishonestly, or with an undeclared conflict of interest in relation to the two police headquarters leases.

The inquiry will also seek to examine Cele’s fitness to hold office.

Overstepping the mandate
Maleka dismissed an apology from Nel for her late arrival by asking her why she had not been present at the beginning of proceedings on Monday. She responded that she was only asked to attend on Tuesday.

Maleka questioned Nel’s concerns regarding the location of the police’s Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences (FCS) unit in KwaZulu-Natal.

At the time the police’s needs assessment—signed off by Cele—had concluded that the unit needed to be centralised. Nel was removed from the police’s portfolio shortly after raising these concerns.

Madonsela’s report last year found that “according to Mr [Siviwe] Dongwana ...
[Cele] regarded Ms Nel’s enquiries as meddling in the affairs of the SAPS and further stated that she was running his department for him.”

However, Maleka put it to Nel that Cele had nothing to do with her removal.

“General Cele was concerned that your email suggested to him where the units should be, as that was his function and duty. You seemed to be troubled way beyond your mandate where the FCS unit should be located.”

Nel responded, saying that it was part of her job as a “facilitator” to raise concerns.

‘Inadequate’
Maleka referred back to the public protector’s investigation which found the unit’s accommodation was “inadequate”. Maleka continued, “It is clear that the units we talked about required accommodation elsewhere.” Nel agreed, adding that she did not dispute the findings of the report.

Maleka put it to Nel that despite these findings, she was saying she was “entitled to say that that is where they [units] should stay”.

Nel responded, “No, it wasn’t indicated that they stay where they are. Their need was to find alternative accommodation to meet their needs.

Maleka suggested that after Cele received her email he had felt she “went into the space that the law requires him to deal with”. Nel shot back that Cele could not be upset by her emails because she was merely “placing her concerns in writing”.

Cele is now in the witness box.—Additional reporting by Sapa

Sally Evans

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