"Disturbing theatrics and unabashed bias", a "sham", and an attempt to recapture the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) – were some of the descriptions given for the Portfolio Committee on Police process that recommended that Robert McBride's contract as executive director of IPID not be renewed.
Hours after the decision became known, a court challenge was lodged and further legal wrangling is expected.
On Thursday, the committee adopted the recommendation that McBride's contract should not be renewed, concluding its deliberations on the matter which started on Monday.
The reasons the committee agreed on, in the absence of the DA's Zakhele Mbhele and Dianne Kohler Barnard, who boycotted proceedings, were as follows:
- The breakdown of trust in the relationship between McBride and Minister of Police Bheki Cele was not in the public interest and conducive to the proper functioning of IPID;
- The "serious" findings against McBride by the Public Service Commission (PSC) that McBride didn't abide by IPID policy and public service regulations when he withdrew security clearance of vetting officer Luanda Saohatse and moved her to another department;
- The failure to fulfil the requirements of the employment agreement with regard to the conclusion of a performance agreement and the conducting of performance assessments;
- The pending investigation by the Public Protector into "serious allegations of misconduct" that former IPID investigator Cedrick Nkabinde laid;
- The fact that McBride currently doesn't have security clearance;
ANC whip in the committee Jerome Maake said: "When we started this process I said the most important thing here that we must look into, is that there is a total breakdown of trust in the relationship."
He said the non-renewal of McBride's contract would be good for everybody – Cele, McBride and the "masses outside".
The reasons correlate with the line the ANC consistently took since Monday in the markedly partisan deliberations.
Mbhele said the decision was "predictable".
"It was evident from the beginning that the ANC was determined to toe the minister's line, instead of considering the matter objectively and rationally. It is for this reason the DA chose not to legitimise this sham and boycotted the final vote," he said.
"A substantive, impartial selection process may have surfaced a different person as the best candidate to lead the IPID for the next five years but, as things stand, there is no evidence to motivate concretely and conclusively for McBride's contract not to be renewed."
'A massive mistake for many years to come'
"We have no doubt that this ANC decision that toes the minister's line is judicially reviewable on the grounds of irrationality. It will echo and reverberate as being a massive mistake for many years to come and a blow to state capacity for fighting corruption, as the Scorpions disbandment decision has done," Mbhele said.
Not long after the committee's decision became known, it emerged that McBride lodged an urgent application to review the decision.
In papers filed in the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, McBride asked that the committee's decision be declared unlawful, invalid, and that it be reviewed and set aside.
In a statement released on Thursday afternoon, McBride characteristically did not mince his words.
"If it were not for the disturbing theatrics and unabashed bias which was there for everyone to see, I would simply walk away as I have never claimed entitlement to any position," he said.
"Rather, were (sic) are interested in actions that are not only consistent but are also in terms of the Constitution, which is the supreme law of our country. However, since the independence of the IPID is under attack by no less than the Minister of Police and rubber-stamped by the [Portfolio Committee on Police], which failed to protect IPID's independence (not for the first time) I have filed papers today to review the patently irrational decision by the PCP, which is the de facto decision of the minister."
'Unwavering commitment to fighting corruption'
"I am proud of the IPID team, who have shown an unwavering commitment to fighting corruption in the face of opposition, persecution and interference at the highest levels. I am confident that IPID's work will continue."
He said he would not comment further until the matter was heard in court.
On Thursday morning, before the committee delved into finalising its report, committee chairperson Francois Beukman said he had to raise a matter of "huge concern" – correspondence by forensic consultant Paul O'Sullivan, which they perceived to be a threat to influence its outcome.
"The fact that your committee can be guided by criminals like Cele and Nkabinde is of grave concern and has left us feeling there is more to this than meets the eye," O'Sullivan wrote in the first of three letters to Beukman.
"As a result, Forensics for Justice [the NPO O'Sullivan founded] has decided to carry out detailed forensic investigations on each and every member of your committee."
In a statement, the ANC members of the committee said: "We view this as an act of intimidation and in contravention of the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act. We have therefore reported this to the speaker of the National Assembly to investigate in the interest of ensuring that members of Parliament are not intimidated from carrying out their work. Furthermore, we have also concluded to lay criminal charges against this individual."
O'Sullivan told News24 there was nothing unlawful by his email and it was not meant to threaten or intimidate anyone.
"My action against these people is to let them know we're not going to take it laying down," O'Sullivan said.
"If you have nothing to hide, you shouldn't have to worry," he said.
O'Sullivan is convinced that IPID is the last bastion of the criminal justice system that has not been captured and that McBride's removal was the first step towards its recapture.
"I will do everything legally possible to stop it."
O'Sullivan is not the only member of civil society concerned about IPID's independence.
Earlier this week the Helen Suzman Foundation, which joined the initial court proceedings as an amicus curiae (friend of the court), indicated that it had lodged a conditional application for leave to appeal with the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria as well as an application with the Constitutional Court to appeal the High Court order.
In a statement released on Wednesday, the foundation said: "However, the Constitutional Court has on numerous occasions held that a political actor is not permitted to make a decision on the renewal of a term of office of an executive of an independent institution, such as IPID, as this is incompatible with the requirements of adequate independence."
In its statement, the ANC study group – comprising its members in the committee – welcomed the committee's decision not to renew McBride's contract.
"In light of the above, the committee has urged the minister to initiate the process of advertising and shortlisting of candidates for appointment in order for the committee to participate in the recommendation of the new IPID head in line with the IPID Act," the statement reads.
Not everyone in the ANC welcomed the decision.
Gauteng MEC for education Panyaza Lesufi tweeted: "I honestly feel we should have handled the matter of Cde R. McBride differently. We must not treat each other like enemies. We need to find a way of resolving our differences. The apartheid regime failed to kill him while on the death row but today, we sent him back to the death row."
"Very complicated cadre," ANC elections head Fikile Mbalula responded.
- FOLLOW News24 on Twitter