Hawks head Berning Ntlemeza’s days as head of the organisation may be numbered if comments made by police minister Fikile Mbalula are anything to go by.
Mbalula told journalists on Tuesday that he would not waste time fighting Ntlemeza’s legal battles – especially if his case did not appear to stand much of a chance in a court.
“I think in the police we are not running short of men and women, nobody is irreplaceable here. Anybody can be replaced in the police. I’m not prepared to waste time about general Ntlemeza until Christmas,” Mbalula said. “I’m not intending to make it an issue that must drag on and on in the courts, in a case that is clearly not a case that is winnable in a court of law,” he added.
The newly appointed minister was speaking at a parade held by the South African Police Service (SAPS) to welcome him and his deputy, Bongani Mkongi.
In March 2017, the High Court in Pretoria found Ntlemeza’s appointment to the Hawks to be unlawful and ruled that he be removed from office. However former police minister Nathi Nhleko stood firm in his decision to appoint him and filed an application to appeal the ruling. The appeal process is the only thing keeping Ntlemeza in his position. Should Mbalula decide to abandon the legal action – the Hawks head may find himself out of a job.
While Mbalula expressed confidence in Ntlemeza’s capabilities as a police officer – he displayed little patience for supporting his ongoing legal battles.
“We need the Hawks to fight criminals. We need the Hawks to dig out those criminals with bad motives who are crippling our country in terms of serious economic crimes. We need them. I’m not going to be sitting here without a head [of Hawks] and then somebody [Ntlemeza] is running around in court. I need criminals behind bars,” he said.
A final decision on Ntlemeza would be made once Mbalula received his handover report from Nhleko.
Mbalula has also called for normalcy in his department’s relationship with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID). He inherits a troubled relationship with Ipid boss Robert McBride, who was suspended by Nhleko in 2015 over his alleged altering of an Ipid document into former Hawks boss Anwa Dramat.
“It is important that there must be stability at that particular level. From our side, that is our priority. To ensure that whatever misunderstanding that has been there should actually be addressed, ” Mbalula said.