Top cops in spat with Phiyega over ‘streamlining’
Affidavits filed in the Johannesburg Labour Court paint a dismal picture of how the restructuring of police management by national commissioner General Riah Phiyega degenerated into a short-tempered email spat between South Africa’s top cops.
Last week Phiyega apparently sidestepped a court order suspending her March dismissal of two deputies to allow for a “consultation process” by putting them on special leave.
The court found that, because there had been inadequate consultation, the dismissals were unprocedural.
At the centre of the storm are deputy national commissioners Lieutenant General Leah Mofomme and Lieutenant General Godfrey Lebeya. Mofomme (46) was head of physical resource management at the South African Police Service, and Lebeya (53), in charge of crime detection, headed the internal investigation into alleged maladministration in the crime intelligence division.
The two officers told amaBhungane this week that, following the ruling, on their return to duty they were placed on special leave.
In September, Phiyega wrote to Mofomme offering her the leadership of the SAPS Education Trust, and Lebeya was offered the job of running the research institute, a body yet to be formed.
Affidavits by the two deputy commissioners stated that the relationship between them and Phiyega had broken down so completely that they only communicated by email.
One mail by Mofomme to Phiyega, included in the court papers, warned that any attempt to remove her from the position of deputy commissioner would be a demotion, “which will constitute an unfair labour practice”.
Phiyega wrote back, seemingly sarcastically: “The interpretation of demotion is yours. Your rank remains lieutenant general, you remain at level 15 but your role is not that of deputy national commissioner.”
When Mofomme indicated that she understood her new position did not constitute a demotion, Phiyega shot back: “Do you understand and accept that the role and position is not that of deputy national commissioner? Do you accept the position as offered to you on the rank of lieutenant general?”
In her reply Mofomme argued that Phiyega has accepted that she would not be demoted and that, “because you are not demoting me, the [education trust] CEO role is at the same level of deputy national commissioner”.
Phiyega’s reply was icy: “It is clear to me that you do not accept the position offered to you as CEO in your current rank of lieutenant general.
The conclusion I draw from our protracted correspondence … is that you do not accept the role allocated to you … I shall advise human resources to engage you so that the matter can be closed administratively.”
In his email exchange with Phiyega, Lebeya indicated he would not accept the seniority of any deputy commissioner appointed after him. This was a clear reference to Lieutenant General Nobubele Mbekela, appointed deputy commissioner in corporate service management in August last year. Mbekela had written to Lebeya, ordering him to accept his new position unconditionally.
Both Lebeya and Mofomme received letters, written on behalf of Phiyega in mid-March, claiming that they had “rendered” themselves redundant as they had “failed” to accept new positions.
Lebeya and Mofomme denied rejecting their new appointments, claiming that the dispute was over whether Phiyega was demoting them.
Previously there were six deputy commissioners. In what she described as a move to streamline management, Phiyega last year reduced their number to three. It was during this restructuring that Lebeya and Mofomme were benched.
Failure to consult
The court affidavits reveal for the first time the acrimony the restructuring exercise has brought about in the upper echelons of the SAPS.
The South African Police Union has voiced concerns that Phiyega had failed to consult fully and that the matter has not been aired at the sectoral bargaining council.
Mofomme states in her affidavit that the attempt to sideline her seemed to flow from “trust issues“ – an apparent reference that she, like Lebeya, was appointed by Phiyega’s predecessor, Bheki Cele.
Phiyega’s spokesperson, Lieutenant General Solomon Makgale, declined to say whether the deputies were on special leave. “We have noted the judgement and are responding to it. It should be noted that there have been extensive consultations with both generals Lebeya and Mofomme over the past six months.
“In fact, they both received letters advising them that there were certain aspects of the consultations we still needed to attend to. The court outcome pre-empted the further consultations which were going to take place. These consultations are continuing as intended and have not been finalised yet,” said Makgale.
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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.