Cele fired, but Zuma stays mum

Bheki Cele this week became the second consecutive police chief to have been fired by President Jacob Zuma, City Press reported on Wednesday afternoon.

Officials in the presidency, the ministry of police and the police itself would not officially confirm the news, but according to various sources unwilling to speak on the record, Cele himself has already been informed that he has been sacked.

A formal announcement, possibly including the president’s reasoning, is expected shortly.

There is no indication that Cele will face criminal charges, as his predecessor Jackie Selebi did, but insiders speculate that he will now be ostracised by both government and the ANC, effectively ending his career.

Cele was suspended from duty in October, as a result of the scandal around multi-billion rand leasing deals for buildings concluded under his watch.

His sacking comes as little surprise; it emerged two weeks ago that a three-person board of inquiry established by Zuma to consider Cele’s fitness to hold office had unanimously recommended that he be fired.

Cele was given only days to respond to the recommendation, apparently because Zuma was eager to conclude the matter.

However, senior police sources said plans to remove Cele had already been put into motion before the inquiry had been completed.

At the time, Cele promised to fight the finding that he had acted dishonestly.

Zuma also appears eager to replace acting police commissioner Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi, who has in recent weeks played a key role in keeping former crime intelligence chief Richard Mdluli from resuming his duties.

The North Gauteng High Court on Thursday ruled that Mdluli should remain suspended from duty until a full review had been conducted on the various decisions that led to his reinstatement.

That is likely to keep him on suspension for several months. In April it emerged that the Hawks were investigating complaints that Cele’s phone calls had been intercepted by the police intelligence unit, with Mdluli’s consent.

Meanwhile, the presidency said Zuma will make his decision known on the future of Cele when he is “ready”.

Presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj was reacting to an SABC radio news report that Cele was about to be fired.

“We cannot comment on those reports. The president will make his decision known when he is ready,” he said.

Last month, a board of inquiry appointed by Zuma found Cele unfit to hold office and recommended he be fired.

He has been suspended since last year.

The inquiry followed a finding in July by public protector Thuli Madonsela that Cele’s involvement in deals to acquire police office space was “improper, unlawful and amounted to maladministration”.

Madonsela concluded that while Cele had not signed the final lease, he had initiated negotiations with property tycoon Roux Shabangu, and had seemed determined to secure the leases despite warnings against them.

The Democratic Alliance has said that Zuma must announce whether he has fired Cele.

“President Zuma must tell the police and the public whether he has indeed sacked Cele,” said DA spokesperson on police, Dianne Kohler Barnard.

“The ongoing uncertainty about the situation in the top brass of the [SA Police Service] undermines police morale, public confidence in the police and the fight against crime,” she said.

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