13 April 2024 | 12:43 PM

Phiyega sends deputies packing

Key Takeaways

National police commissioner Riah Phiyega has axed two experiencedand highly qualified deputies, despite their claims that she has no legalgrounds for doing so.

Phiyega sent former deputy commissioners Lieutenant General GodfreyLebeya and Lieutenant General Leah Mofomme packing last month, after an earlierattempt to dismiss them was halted by the Johannesburg Labour Court in March.

The dismissals have given rise to speculation that other dynamicsare at play.

Some law enforcement sources see them as a wider move by Phiyegato root out people who were close to her predecessor Bheki Cele or as a form ofretribution against those officers perceived to have played a role in bringingdown suspended crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli.

Onthe other side however, there are some within the police who see this as continued wrangling by Moffome and Lebeya as astrategy for getting bigger severance payouts.

This week, both Mofomme and Lebeya claimed that the commissioner’ssubsequent move to dismiss them in May was in contempt of the Labour Courtorder. The court instructed Phiyega to engage in a consultation process withthem, as their dismissals were “procedurally unfair”.

They were allegedly fired because they “opted” not to accept newpositions Phiyega offered them.

Mofomme and Lebeya deny this. Both argue that they acceptedthe positions, but questioned Phiyega on whether this amounted to a demotion.

Reshuffle casualties

In September last year Mofomme and Lebeya were the main casualtiesof a management restructuring process implemented by Phiyega, which cut thenumber of deputies from six to three.

The two were appointed deputy commissioners by Cele in 2011.

Lebeyaand Mofomme have decades of experience in the police service, and both havedoctoral degrees.

Phiyega has stated that the change was part of streamlining the police’s topmanagement structures.

However a police source with insight into the reshuffle told amaBhungane that Phiyega had “changed the(management) structure so that the existing deputies have no posts. She thencreated new posts without doing a work study to place them, because they didnothing wrong.”

Butanother source, closely linked to police management, has an opposing view.The source alleged this week that Lebeya’s real interest lay in engineering abig severance payout under section 35 of the SAPS Act on the basis that he hadbeen unfairly demoted.

The Mdluli connection

Lebeya,who previously headed crime detection, also oversaw the internal police investigation into the alleged maladministration of thecrime intelligence division.

Mdluli, suspended by Cele in 2011, was one of several seniorintelligence officials charged for allegedly personally benefiting from crimeintelligence’s secret service account.

After Phiyega removed Lebeya as a deputy commissioner lastyear, he was offered the job of running a police research institute, which hadyet to be formed.

Mofomme, who also previously held a key position as head ofthe police’s physical resource management, was offered the position of head ofthe SAPS Education Trust.

The first police source noted that “all the generals who were alleged to be conspiringagainst Mdluli have now been sorted out. Cele is out, Petros retired, Dramatdisempowered and Lebeya dismissed.”

Thefour – Cele, former Gauteng provincial police commissioner Mzwandile Petros,Hawks commander Anwa Dramat and Lebeya – were named in a November 2011 letterby Mdluli to President Jacob Zuma as members of a group “working together” tounseat him as head of crime intelligence.

Mdluli,SAPS and the National Prosecuting Authority lost an appeal in the Supreme Courtof Appeal in April to overturn a High Court ruling ordering that internaldisciplinary charges, as well as fraud and corruption charges, should proceedagainst Mdluli.

Althoughmedia reports claimed this week that Mdluli might be recharged “any day”, thematter appears to be in flux.

Thisweek Lebeya said that he had received his letter ofdismissal a fortnight after celebrating 30 years of police service.

Phiyega’s mind made up

He received another blow last week when, on a technicality, theLabour Court struck off the roll his urgent application for Phiyega to be foundin contempt of the court’s March order that she consult him.

Phiyega’sdeputy commissioner, Lieutenant General Christabel Mbekela, told the court in aresponding affidavit: “Consultations cannot go on forever. The meetings tookplace, a decision was taken. That should conclude the matter.”

Mbekelaadded that while Lebeya “may not like the outcome of the consultations” Phiyegatook a decision “as she is entitled by law to do”.

ButLebeya told amaBhungane that despite scrutinising “each and every SAPS law andpolicy” he could not find which law was used to dismiss him. “What wrong have Idone? Clearly if I have done wrong, a body should be set up to determine myfitness for office.

“There are rules and regulations to follow. The commissionerhas gone out of her way to trample on these rules to fire me illegally.”

Mofommetold amaBhungane that Phiyega had only met her twice since the March LabourCourt judgement: to put her on special leave and to tell her she had beendismissed.

“My position is that the latest dismissal was done in the same wayas the first. I approached the court to reverse the decision and won, butnothing has changed,” Mofomme told amaBhungane.

ButPhiyega’s spokesman, Solomon Makgale challenged this, saying the twodeputies were offered important and much-needed functions. He said it wasa “pity” they chose not to accept management’s offer and instead “wanted thingson their own terms”.

Makgaleadded that there had been no question of a demotion because the two would haveretained their ranks, benefits and salaries.

“Thecommissioner has said she doesn’t want to lose anyone. The task ahead ismassive and requires all hands on deck.

“Thediscussions had gone on for six months. It was not desirable for them to go onindefinitely,” Makgale said.

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.

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Before joining the amaBhungane team in 2017, Micah was the national coordinator for media freedom and diversity at the Right2Know Campaign. He holds a Masters in African Studies from Oxford University and a BA Honours in History from Wits University.

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