Sitole denies Cele's allegation that he plotted with Malema to remove him as police minister

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Police Minister Bheki Cele and national police commissioner General Khehla Sitole.
Police Minister Bheki Cele and national police commissioner General Khehla Sitole.
Jaco Marais/Gallo Images
  • Police Commissioner Khehla Sitole denies that he plotted with EFF leader Julius Malema to remove Police Minister Bheki Cele.
  • Sitole said on Tuesday that he learnt with "shock and dismay" of Cele's accusation during Monday's SONA debate.
  • Sitole admitted to meeting Malema, but said it was only to discuss his security.

The battle between Police Minister Bheki Cele and National Commissioner Khehla Sitole escalated on Tuesday when Sitole denied that he hatched a plot with EFF leader Julius Malema to remove Cele.

Sitole said he learnt "with shock and dismay" that Cele levelled this accusation against him in Parliament.

In the face of sharp criticism and calls for his removal from opposition MPs, Cele dropped this bombshell at the start of his contribution to the debate on President Cyril Ramaphosa's State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday. It was not part of his prepared speech.

Cele said Malema met with Sitole on 10 December 2020 in Pretoria, where "the plot was hashed that I [Cele] must be changed".

"It is not a surprise he [Malema] comes here and changes a Cabinet he does not have. The Honourable Malema will have to wait, win an election, have a Cabinet and appoint the Cabinet," he added.

Malema challenged Cele to repeat this outside Parliament, where he would not be protected by parliamentary privilege. Cele said he would repeat it on Friday when he presents the latest crime statistics.

READ | Cele claims Malema and Sitole tried to hatch a plot to remove him

On Tuesday, the police issued a statement.  

"The national commissioner confirms that he met with Mr Julius Malema, a meeting which was initiated by the Ministry of Police and the meeting was held specifically at the behest of the Deputy Minister of Police, Mr Cassel Charlie Mathale," the statement said.

EFF leader Julius Malema.

"The deputy minister requested General Sitole to meet with Mr Julius Malema to address potential threats against him (Mr Malema)."

According to the statement, Malema, Sitole and the Head of Protection and Security Services, Lieutenant-General Sam Shitlabane, met in 2020 at the Tshwane Training Academy.

"The meeting was solely about the alleged threats against Mr Malema and nothing else to which feedback was provided to the deputy minister," the statement said.

"The national commissioner was under the impression that the minister was aware about the content of that meeting given that it was facilitated by his deputy."

READ | A bloated Presidency: The rise of a parallel state under Cyril Ramaphosa's watch?

Sitole also took issue with a television interview Cele did after Thursday evening's SONA, in which he purportedly said that Sitole was not in attendance.

"This is also not correct. The national commissioner is invited by the president as it is customary to do so in each SONA. Same was done this year and the national commissioner attended the SONA of 2022. The records of Parliament will confirm the national commissioner's attendance."

A News24 reporter in the public gallery saw Sitole in attendance.

Khehla Sitole alongside Police Minister Bheki Cele
National police commissioner Khehla Sitole alongside Police Minister Bheki Cele.

"The national commissioner is amazed by the fact that his name and image is being tarnished for political reasons. He decided to issue this statement of clarity since his name is mentioned in Parliament and it's important for such an institution to know and understand the facts," the statement said.

READ | Cele vs Sitole – The President must act now to stop politics polluting the police

The relationship between Cele and Sitole soured a while ago - Sitole is now hanging onto his position by a thread.

In an affidavit to the South African Human Rights Commission, that investigated last year's unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, Cele threw Sitole under the bus and said he was nowhere to be found during the crisis. Sitole had denied this.

panel of experts appointed to probe the reasons behind the July 2021 unrest recommended to Ramaphosa that the appointment procedure of the national police commissioner, as set out in the Constitution, may need to be changed.

The panel, led by Professor Sandy Africa, found the "opaqueness" of Cele and Sitole's relationship may have led to an apparent breakdown of communication before and during the July unrest.

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