As confusion reigned on Thursday about whether police had raided the public protector’s office, Cabinet took the unusual step of seeking a meeting with the protector, Thuli Madonsela, before deciding whether to accept her damning report on a lease agreement for a police headquarters building in Pretoria.
The police announced on Thursday that unknown members of the SAPS crime intelligence unit had raided Madonsela’s office on Wednesday night in search of documents related to the investigation into national police commissioner Bheki Cele.
However, the protector’s office denied that such a raid took place.
The documents were said to be among those to which Madonsela had refused Cele access.
Last week Madonsela released her report on an investigation into the police’s controversial signing of a R500-million lease agreement with businessman Roux Shabangu.
Madonsela found the process to be “fatally flawed” and referred her findings to national treasury for further investigation.
She found that the police and the department of public works had failed to comply with supply chain management rules and the “requirements of the Constitution” and that the lease agreement was invalid.
Hawks spokesperson McIntosh Polela told the Mail & Guardian that an investigation would be launched into the reasons for the “raid”.
“We understand that these people were searching for documents that General Bheki Cele was refused access to by the public protector,” Polela said.
He said that the raid was seen as an act of intimidation against the office of the public protector.
“SAPS’s management condemns the raid. We did not sanction the raid. An investigation will be carried out and the necessary steps will be taken against those who were involved.”
Puzzlingly, Madonsela’s spokesperson, Kgalalelo Masibi, denied to the M&G that there had been any raid on the premises.
Masibi disputed Polela’s version of events and denied that any documents were seized on Wednesday.
“What happened is that yesterday, [Wednesday] between 12.30pm and 1pm, two people came to our offices and identified themselves as coming from SAPS counter-intelligence.
“There was no seizure of documents, they just asked for information relating to an internal inquiry they were conducting at SAPS.”
Masibi said the two officers brought a copy of last weekend’s Sunday Times, which alluded to the public protector having found a memorandum allegedly signed by Cele “authorising funding for the lease”.
The two policemen allegedly asked whether a copy of the memo formed part of the report released last week.
“We gave them a list of all the documents. They were provided with the same list we gave to the police before and during the investigation. There was no seizure of documents.”
Government spokesperson Jimmy Manyi told reporters on Thursday that Cabinet was not aware of the raid.
“Trust me, there will be no sweeping under the carpet here,” Manyi said. He emphasised that journalists should “just trust government” several times.
“The president will allow nothing to happen that is unconstitutional and all ministers and government officials will do things by the book,” Manyi said.
“The Constitution will be obeyed by officials and politicians. The public protector issued a report, not an instruction.”
However, Manyi said Cabinet was preparing an “engagement” with Madonsela on her report, rather than simply acting on its recommendations.
Justice Minister Jeff Radebe and Cabinet secretary Cassius Lubisi would meet her to discuss the report.
In her report Madonsela singles out Minister of Public Works Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde, asking her to explain to her Cabinet colleagues her decision to approve the deal.
However, Mahlangu-Nkabinde was not asked to do so at the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
Manyi said Cabinet had not yet “accepted or rejected” the report, and would do so only do so after the “engagement”.
In August last year Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika was arrested by the Hawks on charges of fraud and defeating the ends of justice four days after he wrote an article alleging that Cele was involved in the controversial lease.
At the time Sunday Times editor Ray Hartley said the arrest was designed to intimidate.
This article was produced by amaBhungane, investigators of the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit initiative to enhance capacity for investigative journalism in the public interest. www.amabhungane.co.za.