OPINION: Nhleko, it's time to recall Ntlemeza, reinstate Dramat
Criticism and condemnation of those in high office have become somewhat standard in our political life; even the president does it sometimes. But it is, still, rare for a judge sitting in a high court to call a senior police officer a liar. Rarer still to say that officer is "without honour". And even rarer to add that he "lacks integrity". When the subject of this stinging public crucifixion is a police officer who was put in charge of the top investigative unit in the service under questionable circumstances, it suddenly throws into relief what most of us guessed all along. The bid to remove Shadrack Sibiya as Gauteng head of the Hawks, and Anwa Dramat as national head of the Hawks, has been political, underhanded, and altogether wrong.
The backstory to this particular saga has managed to become quite complicated in just three months, even by our warped South African standards.
But, in one paragraph:
In November the Constitutional Court ruled that the head of the Hawks could only be suspended or removed through a parliamentary process. In December, Police Minister Nathi Nhleko suspended Dramat, saying the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid), which wins the inaugural Blade Nzimande Award for having the most Stalinist name of any government organ, had found Dramat, and the Gauteng head of the Hawks, Shadrack Sibiya, were responsible for the illegal rendition of Zimbabweans in November 2010. Ipid head Robert McBride, ever contrarian that he is, went public, explaining those findings were in a preliminary report, and not the final report. In the meantime, the Helen Suzman Foundation won a court order overturning Dramat's suspension. However, Nhleko had appointed Berning Ntlemeza acting head of the Hawks. He suspended Sibiya, who then went to court to have that suspension overturned. On Monday, the court overturned Sibya's suspension.
Geddit? Right, to the fun part.
… Which is not the ruling itself, although it certainly upsets Nhleko's applecart more than a bit. The really fun part is what Judge Elias Matojane said about Ntlemeza's conduct in this case:
In my view, the conduct of the third respondent (Ntlemeza), shows that he is biased and dishonest. To further show that the third respondent is biased, and that he lacks integrity and honour, he made false statements under oath. In paragraph 19 in his application… the third respondent says that the applicant (Sibiya) is directly implicated by his juniors… and these junior officials have informed him that they fear for their life. And, as an example of how their fears are justified, he refers to the late Mr Ndanduleni Madilonge, who he alleges directly implicated applicant in the illegal renditions and has died under mysterious circumstances. All these allegations are a fabrication, as according to the death certificate, Mr Madilonge has died of natural causes.
He goes on:
Under the circumstances, and having regard to the vindictive and injudicious conduct of the third respondent, I'm unable to find there is a reasonable prospect of success on this ground.
To be blunt, this is a high court judge saying that the person currently heading the Hawks, which the Constitutional Court has said must, so importantly, be independent, has lied just to get rid of someone he should not have tried to get rid of. And not just lied - lied under oath.
Judges do come across liars all the time; it's part of their trade. But for Matojane to say what he did, for him to allow microphones to record him saying it, and for him to make these comments in a case that is all about politics, shows he must be absolutely furious.
The legal import of this matter is that Sibiya can now go back to work (he's currently in hospital after suffering a car accident, which he says is unrelated to this fight with his employer). The real implication, however, is that Ntlemeza is clearly, to use by now the well-known phrase, not fit and proper for the post he currently holds. He broke the law and went on a mission to get rid of Sibiya, and didn't care how he did it. This matter shows that he didn't care about the law in the first place.
Need we remind you that he is a very senior police officer, who should be upholding the law?
This, then, surely starts to explain the real motive for why he was appointed, and why Dramat was suspended in the first place. All along Nhleko, and his spokesperson Musa Zondi, have claimed again and again that it was all about the Zimbabwean 2010 rendition claim. It is now clear that this is untrue. If it were true, then surely they would be able to wait out the process, and surely they would be able to explain why they were acting when Ipid did not make a final finding against Dramat, and why now, when this claim against Dramat has existed since 2010.
Sometimes, when someone is suspended, you can tell the true agenda by who is placed to act for them. If it's the deputy, and the deputy has been a little ambitious, you can ask who has been supporting them, or who gains from their ascension, even temporarily. In this case, you can tell from the actions of the person in the interim post. (And these actions have been illegal.)
The only one whose orders the person in question could have been acting upon is the person who appointed him - Nhleko. Nhleko must surely carry the can for this. He is the person who has created this situation, and not just by accident.
But, as always, we must also look higher. Who, ultimately, benefits from the Hawks being in this state? Who usually benefits when a crime-fighting institution is weak? As Dramat's advocate said over Christmas that he was suspended after asking for the "Nkandla case files", presumably, this is related to Number One himself. Why else would he just stand by and let this all happen, when, as president, he surely must take responsibility for what happens on his watch?
When Nathi Mthethwa was replaced as Police Minister by Nhleko after last year's elections, it seemed a hard move to understand. Mthethwa had always been loyal to President Jacob Zuma. Not even a year later, it appears that Nhleko is even more loyal, and more willing. That doesn't make him any more competent, though; his appointment of Ntlemeza has backfired badly.
It is amazing how similar the police's situation is now to the situation they were in during Thabo Mbeki's second term. A police minister no one respects, a commissioner who doesn't inspire trust (although no one has made any serious claim that Riah Phiyega has engaged in deals for her own benefit) and a force that is brutalised and lacking morale. All because of the actions of the sitting president.
Nhleko should do the right thing - recall Ntlemeza, now, today, immediately. And just reinstate Dramat. Still, for Nhleko's own reputation, it's probably too late.
This column first appeared on Daily Maverick.
Stephen Grootes is the senior political correspondent for _ Eyewitness News _ and the host of the Midday Report on Talk Radio 702 and 567 CapeTalk. He is the author of SA Politics Unspun. Follow him on Twitter: _ @StephenGrootes_