Up and down like K-Ci & JoJo: Mbalula, Ntlemeza spat reaches farcical new heights

Former Hawks boss Berning Ntlemeza won’t go to work while he waits for an urgent interdict, because it’s ‘risky’ given the police minister’s ‘vigour’ in preventing him. Photo: Deaan Vivier/Gallo Images/Beeld

Former Hawks boss Berning Ntlemeza won’t go to work while he waits for an urgent interdict, because it’s ‘risky’ given the police minister’s ‘vigour’ in preventing him. Photo: Deaan Vivier/Gallo Images/Beeld

After a week of dramatics, ousted Hawks head Mthandazo Berning Ntlemeza has retreated in his standoff with Police Minister Fikile Mbalula. His lawyer said he would not return to his office because of the “vigour” with which Mbalula has hounded him out, creating a “risky situation”.

From Monday to Wednesday, citizens watched — entertained and aghast — as the staring-down theatrics between the two intensified.

Despite a high court order that set aside his appointment as Hawks head, Ntlemeza ambled into work on Monday. A furious Mbalula stomped to the Hawks office and held a press conference where, in his trademark style that has earned him the nickname Razzmatazz, he said: “Ntlemeza must understand that, wherever he is, this is not K-Ci & JoJo. This isn’t a movie. We are running a country.

“I’m not going to allow that nonsense of ensuring that there is a banana republic‚ up and down like K-Ci & JoJo and we are singing. No! A concert is a concert and people must go and dance in a concert.”

At that point, Ntlemeza had allegedly disrupted a management meeting and disappeared in an official vehicle. Mbalula put in a complaint to the police that it had been stolen.

The two resumed their squabble in public about what the legal position was on whether he could return to work, pending a decision by the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Mbalula defiantly criticised the interpretation that Ntlemeza can lawfully go back to work, saying: “I’m the minister of police, I know the law.” He ignored the statement by the Helen Suzman Foundation and Freedom Under Law, the very groups that had fought against Ntlemeza’s appointment, that, by law, he could indeed return to work — for now.

In a series of press conferences Mbalula accused Ntlemeza of showing him the “middle finger” and of running a secret project aimed at undermining the ministry.  Mbalula dramatically announced: “There is a new sheriff in town” who will not tolerate “rogue elements” in the police.

Finally, Ntlemeza went to court to seek an urgent interdict against Mbalula. His attorney, Comfort Ngidi, said Ntlemeza will not go back to work until the interdict “give[s] us direction”.

“The minister wants him out with too much vigour. Some guys guarding the place [the Hawks office] have firearms. I’m not saying anything with that. But it may be safer, it may be more practical to stay away. Mbalula seemed very determined that Ntlemeza must be kept away.”

The foundation and Freedom Under Law succeeded in overturning Ntlemeza’s appointment as Hawks boss when it was reviewed and set aside by the high court in Pretoria.

In a bid to block Ntlemeza from returning until all appeal processes are dealt with, the applicants secured an execution order: that the court’s judgment “will continue to be operational and executed in full, whether or not there are any applications for leave to appeal or there is any petition for leave to appeal”.

But Ngidi lodged a notice of appeal under section 18 of the Superior Courts Act against the execution order, and a defiant Ntlemeza lawfully pitched up for work on Monday.

Section 18(4) of the Act provides that, when an execution order is granted, the aggrieved person has an “automatic right of appeal”. The main order (which reviewed and set aside Ntlemeza’s appointment) will be “automatically suspended, pending the outcome of such appeal”.

The Act states that the court granting the execution order must immediately give reasons for doing so and that the matter must be heard by the next highest court with “extreme urgency”.

It’s not yet known when Ntlemeza’s appeal will be heard by the appeal court. The foundation’s lawyers proposed that the matter be heard by the end of May, but Ngidi said it might only happen in June.

Said Ngidi: “The high court did not provide reasons. Therefore we will lodge papers as soon as we are furnished with reasons. In the meantime, we also lodged a petition for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal.”

Ngidi confirmed on Wednesday that Ntlemeza had returned all equipment, including his cellphone, which was “quite possibly wiped of all sensitive information, because my client still feels he must protect the country”. The car was returned a few hours later, when he sneaked it back into the Hawks headquarters.

Ntlemeza wants his position, vehicle and cellphone back and asked the court to prevent Mbalula from making “public statements which embarrass, humiliate, degrade, undermine and subject” him to contempt and ridicule. This application will be heard on May 9, Ngidi said.

The dramatics will last only until the appeal court rules on the high court judgment that found Ntlemeza not fit and proper to head up the Hawks. The finding by a full Bench of three judges was based on scathing remarks made by Judge Elias Matojane in a 2015 judgment about Ntlemeza’s character.

Matojane said Ntlemeza had “misled the court”, was “biased and dishonest” and lacked “honesty, integrity and conscientiousness”. The judge found that Ntlemeza’s suspension of Gauteng Hawks boss Shadrack Sibiya was unlawful and for ulterior purposes.

Ntlemeza, in his petition for leave to appeal against the main application, lays out why he believes the court was wrong to set aside his appointment. Ntlemeza says Matojane was “infuriated” when he “interpreted my conduct as amounting to an attack on his integrity as a judicial officer”, but the judge had misunderstood him. 

A later judgment in April 2016, by Judge Neil Tuchten, describes what happened. It was delivered in the foundation and Freedom Under Law’s earlier urgent interdict application that unsuccessfully sought to forbid Ntlemeza from going to work, pending their main review application.

Tuchten said Ntlemeza’s lawyers accused Matojane of conniving with the opposition in the Sibiya case. “The allegations made against Matojane … distressed the learned judge,” Tuchten said.

Ntlemeza uses this incident to link the “infuriated” Matojane to his findings against the character of Ntlemeza — remarks that “astonished” Ntlemeza and his lawyers because they were not given the chance to defend the accusations.

Ntlemeza’s argument is strengthened by Tuchten’s judgment: “I think one must make some allowance for an aggrieved litigant. In addition, the preposterous conclusion to which [Ntlemeza] came regarding the probity of the learned judge was probably fuelled by absurd legal advice. [Ntlemeza] and probably one or more of his lawyers jumped to a wholly unjustified conclusion. But that, as I see it, does not necessarily … prove a lack of integrity.”

From this, Ntlemeza concludes that Tuchten “vehemently” disagrees with Matojane and that another court may also come to a different conclusion. He further complains that “there can be no justification” for the review court to accept the pronouncements by Matojane and reject the views of Tuchten.

Ntlemeza raised this argument in the court that reviewed his appointment. It did not hold because Tuchten’s remarks did not obliterate Matojane’s criticism from the record.

Said Judge Peter Mabuse: “Innocuous as these remarks [by Matojane] may seem to be, if left unchallenged, they become an albatross around Major General Ntlemeza’s neck.”

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