The ongoing feud between national prisons commissioner Arthur Fraser and his KwaZulu-Natal counterpart, Mnikelwa Nxele, is heading back to the courts again, after the former once more banned the provincial corrections head from going to work.
Last week, armed security officials physically prevented Nxele, who was first suspended by Fraser in late 2019, from returning to work at the department of correctional services provincial headquarters in Pietermaritzburg.
They did so on instruction from Fraser, who in May went to court to secure an interdict stopping Nxele from returning to work, but then missed a deadline to file papers in the matter.
In addition to the interdict, Fraser is bringing a review application to set aside an order by the labour court, which had referred the matter to the Public Sector General Bargaining Council for arbitration.
The arbitrator ruled in Nxele’s favour, finding that his suspension had been unlawful and ordering that he return to work.
However, Fraser immediately went to the high court to secure an interim order preventing Nxele from going back to his job, pending the review application he had lodged.
Nxele, in turn, is opposing the review and the interdict and his lawyers have threatened to go to court for a punitive costs order against Fraser.
In a letter to Fraser dated 7 August, Nxele’s lawyer said there was no court order in place that prevented him from working.
“Currently, there is nothing that legally prohibits our client from reporting for duty, and he will continue to report for duty until there is a court order directing him otherwise,” lawyer Bongani Mgaga wrote.
Mgaga accused Fraser of “taking the law into his own hands”.
“We place on record that should your client institute contempt of court proceedings, as insinuated in the aforesaid letter, such contempt proceedings will be vigorously opposed by our client and he shall seek punitive costs against your client [the national commissioner] in his personal capacity,” Mgaga said.
The two are both ANC deployees to the civil service, but have been at loggerheads since Fraser took office in April 2019 after being shifted from the then State Security Agency (SSA) after a review of the security establishment commissioned by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Both men are controversial figures, having been implicated in various acts of corruption by witnesses during evidence before the Zondo commission into state capture.
Former Bosasa chief operating officer Angelo Agrizzi testified that Nxele received payments of R57 000 a month from the services company.
Several witnesses testified at the commission chaired by acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo that Fraser was at the centre of restructuring the SSA to allow it — and its resources — to be used to fight factional battles within the governing party.
Nxele has been suspended several times since Fraser took office, on a variety of charges, including refusing to reinstate warders he had suspended, as well as tender corruption.
Correctional services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said that Nxele “‘remains suspended”.