Mkhwebane, Cele in a standoff

Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has roasted Police Minister Bheki Cele for failing to provide police protection to two whistle blowers in “grave danger” of assassination.

A determination was made by the police and the State Security Agency that Thabiso Zulu and Les Stuta required protection.

Mkhwebane wants President Cyril Ramaphosa to “reprimand” Cele for his “gross negligence” and “lapse in judgment”.

She has also instructed national police commissioner Khehla Sitole to provide the two, who were witnesses in her investigation into alleged corruption totalling R37-million in the renovation of the Umzimkhulu Memorial Hall, with protection.

But Cele has decided to take Mkhwebane’s report on review and will not provide the two with protection until the review process is concluded.

The report — titled Undue Delay, Improper Conduct:Gross negligence and maladministration by the minister of police and the South African Police Service in failing to provide whistleblowers with security at state expense after it was recommended that they needed protection — was sent to Cele and Sitole last week.

In the report, Mkhwebane said she had decided to investigate the claims of corruption at Umzimkhulu after the public allegations by Zulu and Stutain the media and at the memorial service and funeral of murdered ANC councillor Sindiso Magaqa. The two had claimed Magaqa and Umzimkhulu speaker Khaya Thobela were murdered for trying to expose the corruption.

She met Zulu and Stutain September and they had asked for assistance in securing police protection because they feared for their lives. She had taken the matter up with the relevant authorities.

This led to the decision to investigate whether the failure to provide the two with protection was an act of negligence or maladministration and whether there had been an undue delay on the part of Cele or the police. Mkhwebane said Stuta and Zulu were “living in fear for their lives” and the failure by Cele and the police to act “exposes them to a risk of being assassinated”.

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She said it also exposed the police and government to legal claims and financial losses should the two men be killed and their families choose to take legal action against the state.

Mkhwebane said an assessment by the State Security Agency found that Stuta and Zulu’s lives were under threat and that protection should be provided to them at state expense.

She said the conduct of Cele and police management in responding to her request was “grossly negligent” and a “slap in the face to the very people that the SAPS [South African Police Service] are employed to protect”. Their conduct could also have “led to unnecessary loss of lives”.

In her remedial action, Mkhwebane said Ramaphosa should not only reprimand Cele but also take steps to ensure that similar incidents of “lack of insight or non-action” on the part of members of the executive did not occur in future.

Mkhwebane instructed Cele to give her a copy of the threat assessment within three days, which he had thus far refused to hand over.

She gave him seven days to ensure that the recommendations that the two men be provided with “requisite security at state expense” were implemented.

Cele was also given seven days to issue a written apology to Zulu and Stuta and an explanation of why the recommendations were not implemented.

Mkhwebane instructed Sitole to ensure that the police adopted a standard operating procedure on how to deal with requests for threat assessments and that instructions from the police ministers were carried out without delay. On Wednesday, Zulu,whose lawyers have served the police with notice of a high court application to force them to protect him, said he had still not been given protection.

“It appears I am left with no course but to proceed with legal action,” he said.

Cele’s spokesperson, Reneilwe Serero, said he had “perused” the report and had “serious reservations” about its findings and the proposed remedial actions.

She said Cele had instructed police management to take the report on judicial review “because of its dire consequences” for the ministry and the police if left unchallenged.

None of the remedial actions would be implemented until the review was concluded, she said.

Public protector spokesperson Oupa Segalwe had not responded to queries by the time of publication.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
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