Cele 'vindicated' after whistleblower ruling, but Public Protector's office says agreement voluntary

Police Minister Bheki Cele.
Police Minister Bheki Cele.
GCIS
  • Police Minister Bheki Cele feels vindicated after High Court deems Public Protector's report invalid.
  • The Public Protector found that Cele along with SAPS failed to provide protection to two whistleblowers.
  • In a statement the Public Protector's office said it takes exception to the police ministry's comments. 

Police Minister Bheki Cele feels the police have been "vindicated" after the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria concluded that the Public Protector's report on witness protection matters involving two KwaZulu-Natal whistleblowers should be declared invalid and set aside following a judicial review.

"In what is becoming a familiar sight, yet another court has declared a report by the Public Protector invalid. This time, the Gauteng High Court [in Pretoria] has found the Public Protector to have misdirected herself, in saying the South African Police Service should provide personal protection to the two witnesses," the minister's spokesperson Lirandzu Themba said in a statement on Thursday.

This comes after Cele launched a judicial review of a report by the Public Protector that found that he, along with the South African Police Service (SAPS), failed to provide protection to whistleblowers on corruption and police killings in KwaZulu-Natal.

In the report, the Public Protector, advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane found that Cele and the police's failure to protect the two whistleblowers could have resulted in their assassination.

READ | Firearm amnesty: Cele urges MPs for another amnesty period for people to hand over their guns

The whistleblowers, Thabiso Zulu and Lesley Stuta, were witnesses in her investigation into alleged multi-million rand corruption in the Umzimkhulu local municipality.

"In a separate but related matter, the same court granted an order on the 26th of March, which stated that Thabiso Zulu is only entitled to witness protection, provided by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development and not the SAPS," Themba added.

As a result, Cele took the report on judicial review which was heard on Wednesday, 3 June.

Cele has since welcomed the outcome of the court saying that it has restored the integrity of the police.

"The turn of events has vindicated the South African Police Service and restored its integrity, especially since the Public Protector's report swayed public opinion to come across as if the SAPS was simply dragging its feet in protecting whistleblowers," he said.

The minister further called on the office of the Public Protector to exercise due diligence in her findings.

"It has always been clear that while protection of witnesses is paramount, it remains the sole responsibility of the National Prosecution Authority as stated in the Witness Protection Act. The Public Protector should have known this," he concluded.

ALSO READ | Ramaphosa to instruct police minister to ensure Free State journalist's 'safe passage' to SA

The Public Protector's office however said both parties obtained an order by consent in the High Court on the matter.

"The order means the Public Protector and the Minister reached a voluntary agreement to settle the matter without the Public Protector conceding the merits of the Minister's application," spokesperson Oupa Segalwe said in a statement on Thursday.

The Public Protector's office further stated that the consent order came as a result of Zulu having approached the court on an urgent basis, in separate proceedings in March, requesting protection from the Minister as per the Public Protector's report.

Exception to remarks

"He was granted the relief he sought except that such relief had to come from the National Prosecution Authority. This rendered the matter between the Minister and the Public Protector academic, hence the consent order.

"It is important to stress the point that the court, in both the separate cases brought by the Minister and Mr Zulu, did not traverse the merits of the Public Protector's case. Accordingly, the Public Protector still holds the strong view that the constitutional duty to provide safety and security to citizens rests with the SAPS," Segalwe further explained.

The Public Protector further stated her exception at the minister's remarks that she should exercise due diligence in her findings when conducting investigations.

"The Minister's attention is hereby drawn to last’s week's Constitutional Court ruling in which the justices on the bench unanimously cautioned that: "To mount a bad faith attack on [the Public Protector's office] would surely work to undermine the constitutional project of the Republic," Segalwe said.

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