Zuma fights Cele’s legal bid to overturn sacking

2012-09-28 00:00

THE court battle between President Jacob Zuma and his former police chief Bheki Cele is on.

Zuma filed papers this week ahead of a Wednesday deadline in response to Cele’s application in the North Gauteng High Court to have the decision declaring him unfit for office set aside.

In the papers, Zuma stands by his decision and says he was left with no option but to get rid of Cele. Zuma sacked Cele on June 5 and permanently replaced him with new police commissioner Ria Phiyega.

He informed Cele in writing and based his decision on the findings of a board of inquiry chaired by Judge Jake Moloi.

The inquiry was constituted by Zuma after two reports were compiled by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela that found that two lease deals with property dealer Roux Shabangu to house the police in Pretoria and Durban were unlawful.

And as the accounting officer in charge of police, Cele had failed in his duty to ensure the contract was above board and was complicit in allowing the irregular deal to proceed, Madonsela concluded.

Cele has consistently maintained his innocence and went to court in July to have the findings by Moloi thrown out, as well Zuma’s decision to fire him.

Zuma’s actions have since had ramifications in the political arena, with speculation rife that Cele is being used by a faction opposed to the president to canvas support for an alternative candidate at the ANC’s elective conference in December.

The ANC denied this in a statement issued two weeks ago, saying Cele supported the party’s leadership.

On Sunday Cele appeared alongside KZN Premier Zweli Mkhize at the province’s Heritage Day celebrations.

Mkhize backs Zuma, leading political analyst Adam Habib to conclude that the party is trying to unite the warring factions for the sake of a peaceful conference.

Cele remains an extremely popular figure in some constituencies and still garners huge attention when he appears in public.

Responding to Cele’s application in an affidavit on behalf of Zuma and obtained by The Witness, his legal adviser, Bonisiwe Makhene, said the president was guided by the board’s findings in arriving at his decision.

She said there was nothing irrational about Zuma’s decision, and denied he had acted with ulterior motives, two charges Cele levelled at him in his founding affidavit.

Taking issue with Cele on those two points, Makhene said: “The applicant has failed to make out a case for the review of the president’s decision in that he has failed to demonstrate that the president’s decision was irrational or arbitrary.

“He has furthermore failed to adduce any evidence to substantiate his bald assertion that the president’s decision was actuated by ulterior motives.”

Cele had also attacked Zuma for sacking him despite what he saw as his own impeccable crime-fighting record.

Makhene said Zuma had taken into account the findings of the board with regard to Cele’s conduct pertaining to the leases when he fired him.

She said Cele’s abilities to combat crime were simply insufficient to save him in the end.

“The president accepted the applicant’s unquestionable commitment to the fight against crime … this was never questioned in the report by the Public Protector …

“Notwithstanding the applicant’s [Cele] role as a crime fighter, the president decided to uphold the board’s recommendation and remove the applicant from the position of national commissioner.”

The bulk of Zuma’s papers recite the board’s findings and set out to show it was lawfully constituted and mandated, contrary to the allegations by Cele that it wasn’t.

Excerpts of testimony from the inquiry are included in the papers to bolster Zuma’s argument.

Ultimately, said Makhene, Zuma had to consider the severity of the misconduct, the central role played by Cele in upholding the law, the fact he was a role model to thousands of police officers and the need to take a stand against the flouting of procedures.

“For this reason the president took the view that a punitive sanction short of removal would not be appropriate.”

Along with Zuma, Moloi, Phiyega, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa and two state lawyers are cited as respondents.

The matter will now be enrolled and a date set for argument.

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