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What’s the beef between Cele and Sitole?

After a week of looting, death and destruction of property in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, the reported feud between Police Minister Bheki Cele and the national commissioner of police, Khehla Sitole, has surfaced.

An ANC provincial executive committee member in KwaZulu-Natal, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the rift between Cele and Sitole was a source of frustration for the province’s premier Sihle Zikalala, who announced last week that the looting and destruction had cost more than R10-billion.   

“He [Zikalala] has ambitions like any other of a higher office and this is tainting his image. What is also causing Sihle to become frustrated is the rift between Bheki Cele and Sitole. Their rift has cost us. When one gives an instruction, the other does not listen,” the provincial leader said. 

A high-ranking police source concurred, saying the feud between the law enforcement leaders had harmed the police service’s response to last week’s destruction.

“That is why officers only arrived when the sun came out after Chris Hani Mall [in Vosloorus] was burnt [on Wednesday morning], just to secure the area and not shoot at people,” said the insider, who also asked to remain anonymous.

“These orders are from the political principal [Cele] and not from Sitole because the minister gave orders that there should not be any loss of life.”

The rift between Cele and Sitole became public in May when the minister sent a scathing letter to the national police commissioner, calling him “irresponsible”. 

In the letter Cele ordered Sitole to reverse nine senior appointments. The letter, a copy of which the Mail & Guardian saw, fuelled criticism that Cele was meddling in police operational matters and usurping Sitole’s powers. 

Last month, Cele wrote another letter ordering the police commissioner to institute disciplinary action against another senior officer for alleged verbal abuse during a meeting of the police service’s top brass. 

The latest instruction from Cele drew the ire of the South African Police Union (Sapu), which wrote a letter to Ramaphosa asking for his mediation in the rift, which it said was detrimental to crime fighting. 

“For a minister to patrol beaches during the [Covid-19] lockdown and to give operational instructions for arrests to be effected leaves a lot to be desired,” read the Sapu letter, which was acknowledged by Ramaphosa’s office. 

The Mail & Guardian reported on Friday that the violence was possibly the first phase of a campaign to cause domestic instability. During a national address later than evening, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the unrest was part of an “orchestrated plan” and an “attack” on the country’s constitutional democracy.

A statement on Sunday issued by the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure, or NatJoints, co-chaired by the defence force, the police and the State Security Agency, said the structure was aware of more violence being considered, and sought to reassure the public it was on top of it. 

“[Natjoints], through its intelligence coordinating community, is also aware of more messages cropping up and circulating on various social media platforms, threatening to attack police stations and disarm law enforcement officers; attack courts of law and key infrastructure such as fuel pipelines and refineries; and more looting,” it said.

“The [structure] has subsequently mobilised maximum resources to address these threats and heighten visibility. Measures have also been put in place to ensure stability, and the protection and safety of  those who are not involved in the unrest and wish to go on with their daily routine.”

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Khaya Koko
Khaya Koko is a journalist with a penchant for reading through legal documents braving the ravages of cold court benches to expose the crooked. He writes about social justice and human-interest stories. Most importantly, he is a card-carrying member of the Mighty Orlando Pirates.

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