The police, however, say Lieutenant General Richard Mdluli’s suspension is a done deal.
The controversial former crime intelligence boss was suspended by the acting national police commissioner Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi on Sunday for matters relating to an ongoing court inquest into the murder of Mdluli’s former lover’s husband, Oupa Ramogibe, in 1999.
But Ike Motloung, Mdluli’s legal counsel, told the Mail & Guardian he had only received the notice of suspension via email and no effort was made to ensure he had indeed received it on his behalf.
“I only realised the lieutenant general was suspended when I switched on my TV on Sunday morning and had it reported it to me. I have been served nothing personally and have not been given a mandate to do so,” Motloung told the M&G.
Motloung added he was “completely unaware” of any intention to immediately suspend Mdluli, as he had been awaiting a reply from Mkhwanazi after he had written to him asking about the notice of intention to suspend.
“As far as I understand, we are still waiting for clarity on the notice of intention,” he said.
Division of no labour
Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa moved Mdluli to another division within the service, following reports saying he was being protected by President Jacob Zuma and had been granted extra powers to spy on emails, phone calls and text messages since being reinstated to his position after a suspension handed down in 2011.
Mdluli was also reportedly earmarked for the position of top cop, to replace current acting national police commissioner Major General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi – the very man who has now signed off on his suspension.
Mdluli was originally suspended from his crime intelligence chief position after he appeared in the Boksburg Magistrate’s Court in February 2011 on murder charges relating Ramogibe’s death.
This was followed by Mdluli’s arrest in September 2011 on fraud and corruption charges alleging that he had raided a police intelligence funds for personal use.
In December last year the National Prosecuting Authority withdrew fraud and corruption charges against Mdluli, pending the outcome of an inquest into Ramogibe’s murder in February 2012, to ascertain the merits of the case against him.
Mdluli was reinstated as crime intelligence chief on March 27 this year.
At the time Mdluli said the charges were part of a political conspiracy by allies of former president Thabo Mbeki, who were trying to take over police intelligence ahead of the 2012 ANC conference in Mangaung.
Motloung would not comment on the possibility of a political conspiracy, only saying that Mdluli is on sick leave due to emotional stress.
Political rug pulled out from under Mdluli
Despite the apparent lack of protocol that his lawyer claims makes his suspension invalid, Mdluli may find it difficult to sidestep his exile from the police without the political support he was purportedly receiving.
Steven Friedman, director at the Centre for the Study of Democracy, said Mdluli may begin to find that friends are in shorter supply.
“[Mdluli’s situation] has left politicians divided, and it would seem Mdluli’s use is running out for everyone and as such no one will back him up,” Friedman told the M&G.
The police, meanwhile, are sticking to their guns in saying there had been no lapses in protocol concerning Mdluli’s current suspension and that his legal representative “definitely received” his suspension documentation.
“The acting national commissioner could not simply sit down when these allegations came out. It required action and the lieutenant general responded accordingly,” said Lindela Mashigo, police spokesperson.
Mashigo would not discuss details of the disciplinary action facing Mdluli or what possible penalties the embattled cop could face, but dismissed suggestions that Mkhwanazi had acted on Mdluli as a result of undue political pressure.
“I invite you to study the commissioner’s course of action in detail. This is as a result of making considered decisions based on the information presented before him,” Mashigo said.
Mkhwanazi’s decision to suspend Mdluli has been lauded by opposition parties, amid suggestions, however, that his bold actions may not go unpunished.
“Unfortunately, Lieutenant General Mkhwanazi won’t spend much more time in his position as he won’t simply take orders from his political masters, who seem to be suffering from electionitis,” DA spokesperson for police Dianne Kohler Barnard told the M&G.