Mystery surrounds claims that a large amount of cash – said to total at least R1-million – was stolen from the Durban home of police boss Bheki Cele at the end of March.
Cele has denied the allegation. “It’s not true that there was a burglary at my house recently,” he said, adding there had not been a burglary at his home since 2006 when laptops and CDs were stolen.
But the rumour of a recent theft is rife in security circles in KwaZulu-Natal. Police and VIP protection unit sources have told the Mail & Guardian that millions of rands disappeared from Cele’s home in the posh suburb of Umhlanga. One police source put the figure as high as R5-million.
They said that the incident happened around March 31, a few weeks before Cele paid lobola for his fiancée, Thembeka Ngcobo.
In mid-April he paid an undisclosed amount to Ngcobo’s family in a high-profile event at the Amanzimtoti family home.
The lobolo delegation, led by S’bu Mpisane, a controversial multi-millionaire businessman and former Durban Metro policeman, included soccer boss Irvin Khoza, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe and President Jacob Zuma’s son, Edward.
The M&G was told that Cele’s VIP protection unit drivers and a police captain have been questioned about the alleged theft. The M&G couldn’t verify this or trace the officer.
The M&G‘s sources claimed the theft was being investigated by deputy provincial commissioner Johan Booysen, but this week he denied knowledge of the alleged incident: “It’s the first I hear of it.”
Sources in Durban said Cele had made several trips to Booysen’s office in recent weeks: “Booysen is the chief’s right hand man,” said one.
Several sources claimed the incident was being investigated on an informal, confidential basis. “They can continue investigating anything under the radar as long as it’s an inquiry, which is logged on a manual register, not on computer … It only gets converted to a docket when they have prosecutable suspects,” said a source.
Booysen, also provincial head of the Directorate of Priority Crimes Investigation (the Hawks), is regarded as extremely close to Cele. His organised crime unit has played a controversial role in investigating violence between rival taxi bodies in KwaZulu-Natal.
This is not the first occasion on which Cele has been in possession of large amounts of cash. Cele confirmed another incident involving the loss of tens of thousands of rands on a South African Airways flight last month.
The leaks about Cele have coincided with an apparent purge by the police boss of senior officers regarded as being part of the era of former president Thabo Mbeki and former police commissioner Jackie Selebi.
The Sunday Times reported earlier this month that Cele had recently removed Tau Thekiso, the head of the Presidential Protection Unit, and had also transferred Sean Tshabalala, the divisional commissioner of Protection and Security Services, and Fundile Tokwe, the head of the VIP Protection Unit.
Previously questions have been raised about how Cele is able to fund his flamboyant lifestyle. When off duty, Cele is known to swap his uniform for designer clothes and accessories. At the wedding of IT billionaire Robert Gumede earlier this year he boasted that his dark-brown suit and cream hat came “from [Galeries] Lafayette in Paris”.
He was reported to have bought his former girlfriend, Bongiwe Ngcobo, a house and a Mercedes-Benz and showered her with expensive clothes and gifts during their relationship, which ended last year.
Cele’s closeness to Mpisane has attracted attention because of the latter’s past involvement in taxi conflict in KwaZulu-Natal.
In 1998 Mpisane was to be a state witness in the trial of long-distance taxi boss Mandla Gcaba, accused of arranging the revenge killing of a rival taxi boss. But Mpisane, whose car was identified as the getaway vehicle, disappeared and his failure to testify may have played a role in Gcaba’s acquittal. Mpisane later re-appeared and rose to fame as Durban’s richest Metro policeman.
During his tenure as KwaZulu-Natal safety and security minister, Cele and Booysen were both cited in their official capacities as respondents in an interdict obtained in October 2008 by the chairperson of the KwaMaphumulo Taxi Association, Bongani Mkhize, preventing the police from killing him.
Mkhize, who was embroiled in a turf war with a long-distance taxi association, was being sought in connection with the murder of Kranskop police Senior Superintendent Zethembe Chonco in August that year.
At the time of the interdict, the police, including members of Booysen’s organised crime unit, had killed seven suspects in alleged shoot-outs.
Despite the interdict he was shot dead by a police task team in February last year. Police claimed he fired on them, but a ballistics expert brought in by the family raised serious doubts about their version.
Thousands not worth pursuing
In May this year national police commissioner Bheki Cele lost between R20 000 and R40 000 on a commercial South African Airways flight after accidentally leaving his bag on the plane.
A police source said the bag, which he said contained R40 000, was left on a flight Cele took from Johannesburg to Durban. The bag was later recovered when the plane was searched by members of his security team but it had been opened.
“All his belongings were there but the money had disappeared,” the police source said. He added that Cele had decided not to lay a charge in connection with the theft.
Cele confirmed the incident this week and said that he did not think it necessary to open a case.
He put the stolen amount at R20 000.
The national police commissioner earns R1.1-million a year.
The source said Cele carried large sums of money with him and that this incident would not be “news” in police circles.