On Thursday, spokespersons for both Cele and Sitole created a united front. They refused to respond to claims that Cele was usurping Sitole’s powers after the minister rebuked the police commissioner for the latter’s Tuesday appointment of senior managers at the South African Police Service (SAPS).
In a letter written on Tuesday, which the Mail & Guardian has seen, Cele chastised Sitole for making the senior appointments, charging that the nation’s top cop was supposed to submit new names for the minister’s “consideration and concurrence”. This, Cele added, was based on an alleged agreement he and Sitole reached during a meeting last month.
“You, therefore, blatantly ignored my instructions and the provisions of the SAPS Employment Regulations 2018 when you went ahead and announced these appointments. Your disregard for my position as the executive authority of the department of police and relevant regulations is regarded as serious and will not be tolerated,” Cele wrote.
“Your irresponsible actions further opened the department to possible litigation and disputes.”
It was these hard words that sources said proved Cele was interfering with Sitole’s work, with the police commissioner being solely responsible for operational decisions.
“The man in the hat [Cele] is obstructive. Cele wants to run the SAPS,” alleged a source, who asked to remain anonymous.
Another insider said Cele was still yearning for the role of police commissioner. The source claimed that the minister’s alleged omnipresence in all policing matters, particularly during Covid-19 operations and briefings, was aimed at “sabotaging” Sitole’s authority.
“He [Cele] forgets that his tenure ended in October 2011. Cele should allow the general [Sitole] to do what he was appointed to do — and that is to be the operations head of all things policing,” contended another source, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
However, police ministry spokesperson Lirandzu Themba refused to respond to these allegations, saying: “The correspondences between the minister and national police commissioner are official,and at this stage we have no comment.”
Her views were echoed by national SAPS spokesperson Brigadier Vish Naidoo, who said: “It is rather unfortunate that someone would choose to leak a correspondence between two offices to the media.”
Naidoo added: “Nevertheless, we will not respond to any query based on any communication between the office of the minister and national commissioner.”
In his letter, Cele added that the appointments Sitole made were “invalid and irregular”, with Cele “instructing” the top cop to withdraw the positions by 4pm on Wednesday. Cele asserted that Sitole’s moves showed “blatant contempt” for the minister’s authority.
Sources told the M&G that Sitole had not rescinded the appointments as of Thursday morning.
Naidoo did not respond to the M&G’s queries about whether Sitole had acquiesced to the instruction, or what would happen to the police commissioner for the alleged defiance.