A power struggle is brewing between new Police Minister Fikile Mbalula and former Hawks boss Mthandazo Ntlemeza over the latter’s ejection from office.
Ntlemeza insists that he is still in charge of the Hawks and will turn up for work on Tuesday, in defiance of Mbalula’s letter instructing him to “hand in the tools of the trade” and “vacate the office” of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation.
Mbalula gave the instruction following a second High Court order this week, enforcing the
implementation of an earlier ruling that Ntlemeza’s appointment was unlawful and should be set aside.
Mbalula also reversed his predecessor Nathi Nhleko’s decision to challenge the order in the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA).
He immediately appointed Yolisa Matakata, one of Ntlemeza’s deputies, as the acting head.
However, Ntlemeza was adamant that he would go ahead and lodge his own appeal, and should therefore be allowed to continue in his position pending this process – a stance that has led to a high-stakes standoff between the two powerful men.
The 61-year-old Ntlemeza said he intended to remain in office until 2022, when his contract expired.
In his letter to Ntlemeza this week, Mbalula thanked him for his service and ordered him to leave immediately. The court also ruled that Ntlemeza should leave the premises even if the appeal was pending.
“You are hereby informed to hand in all the assets of the employer, including tools of trade, within 24 hours from receipt of this letter and vacate the office,” Mbabula said, carrying out his first major decision since taking office after the Cabinet reshuffle, announced on March 31.
However, Ntlemeza, who is holidaying with his family in the Eastern Cape, told City Press in a telephonic interview that “he remains in charge” of the Hawks and that “only Parliament can remove” him.
“I am worried about the noise the minister is making,” he said.
He cited the Police Act, which protects the Hawks head from being dismissed by his political boss, saying: “Go and read the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation Act for yourself.”
He sent a similar message to Mbalula through his lawyers on Wednesday, the day before the minister announced Matakata’s appointment.
However, Mbalula went ahead with the announcement on Thursday, saying he was acting within his powers.
“Misleading the public”
On the same day, Ntlemeza’s lawyer, Comfort Ngidi, asked the minister to explain the reason behind his instructions to Ntlemeza.
“Our client is still an employee of the SA Police Service (SAPS) and has not been found guilty of any misconduct by the police department warranting him to be dismissed, surrender the assets of his employer and vacate office,” wrote Ngidi to Mbalula.
Ngidi told Mbalula that his firm had advised Ntlemeza to “to remain in office” pending the outcome of the appeal process.
City Press understands that Ntlemeza has defiantly decided not to sign an acknowledgment of the letter, which was sent through acting national police commissioner Kgomotso Phahlane’s office.
In his letter to Mbalula, Ngidi also wrote: “If [our] client vacates office, what should happen to him, because he is still the employee of the SAPS?”
Vuyo Mhaga, the spokesperson for Mbalula, challenged Ntlemeza’s stance yesterday, saying: “What the minister announced to the public remains.
We will see who reports for duty as head of the Hawks on Tuesday.”
Speaking to City Press, Ntlemeza said he remained head of the Hawks and considered his deputy’s appointment as just an ordinary exercise of acting in his absence.
He claimed that he was simply taking four days’ leave and would be returning to work on Tuesday.
“I am coming back, and myself and Matakata do not have a problem. She is my deputy and I am coming back next week,” he said.
Mhaga said Ntlemeza was officially informed of the minister’s decision, but could not explain in detail the nature of the leave of absence granted to Ntlemeza.
Ntlemeza took a swipe at Mbalula, saying the minister was “misleading the public”.
He said he was “enjoying his time with his family in the Eastern Cape”.
Ngidi argued that since he had filed notice to appeal the court ruling with the SCA, the process automatically suspended the implementation of the earlier ruling.
Little chance of success
Meanwhile, Ntlemeza’s family spokesperson has weighed in on the standoff, expressing the family’s anger at Mbalula’s decision to withdraw Ntlemeza’s appeal.
Ntlemeza’s brother, Bonginkosi, told City Press that the family would hold a media briefing to announce the way forward, which might include taking legal action against the minister.
During Mbalula’s briefing on Thursday, he said there was little chance of success in appealing against the case, which had been brought by the Helen Suzman Foundation and Freedom Under Law.
“Ntlemeza proceeded with his application for leave to appeal and this was dismissed with costs,” said Mbalula.
“The counter-application [by the Helen Suzman Foundation] that the order of March 17 2017 be operational and enforceable was granted, and the costs for the counter-application must be paid by Ntlemeza.
“This means that we must give effect to the order of March 17 2017 that set aside Ntlemeza’s appointment. The effect is that, even if Ntlemeza decides to appeal further, the order of March 17 2017 stands and is not suspended,” he said.
Mbalula added: “I am expected to act in the best interests of the people to guard against wasteful and irregular expenditure. Therefore, this case lacked [any] prospect of success.”
Ntlemeza was supposed to have already retired, but had his service automatically extended when he took the job of Hawks boss.
“In terms of performance, I have achieved all the targets. Parliament knows ... You can put it online that you called me and I said I was still the head of the Hawks,” he said.
Ntlemeza said he felt ambushed by the minister when he decided to withdraw the appeal.
In the appeal documents before the SCA, Ngidi has argued that Ntlemeza’s “removal from office, pending the outcome of the appeal process, will irreversibly tarnish his reputation, honour and self-esteem as a high-profile member of the SAPS”.
“A suspension with full pay will not address the irremediable damage to the reputation of the appellant [Ntlemeza] as national head of the [Hawks].”
Ngidi also argued in the documents that the Pretoria High Court erred in enforcing the removal of Ntlemeza as the process was regulated by the provisions of the Police Act.
Ntlemeza’s lawyers also argued that his removal interfered with the “principle of separation of powers”.