13 July 2024 | 11:39 PM

Zuma ‘bid to oust Cele’ stalls

Key Takeaways

President Jacob Zuma is trying to suspend police commissioner Bheki Cele, apparently as part of a move to purge the security services.

Two independent sources have said that Zuma, before his trip to Norway at the end of August, wrote to Cele saying he would establish a board of inquiry in terms of the Police Act and gave Cele five days to indicate why he should not be suspended.

Apparently the reasons given in the president’s letter related to the public protector’s report on the police lease deals in Pretoria and Durban with businessman Roux Shabangu.

But both sources said the move against Cele was being driven by factional battles in the ANC and Zuma’s doubts about Cele’s loyalty.

Neither the presidency nor the commissioner’s office would confirm information about the letter.

Cele’s spokesperson, Major General Nonkululeku Mbatha, said she knew nothing about the matter and referred queries to the presidency, although she said the SABC and the New Age newspaper had phoned her about the same information.

No ‘bit-part’ response

Zuma’s spokesperson, Mac Maharaj, said he would not comment on an internal communication. Zuma was dealing with the public protector’s report and he would not “engage in responding bit by bit”, he said.

“I don’t know whether such a letter exists, but I am not prepared to comment — There will be an announcement when the president has completed the process.”

But it is understood that Zuma’s gambit to unseat Cele stumbled over a misinterpretation of the Police Act. Section 8 gives the president the power to establish a board of inquiry only “if the national commissioner has lost the confidence of the Cabinet”, giving Cele the opportunity to argue that there was no evidence to support this conclusion.

It is understood that Cele vigorously defended his role in the leasing scandal, which he has publicly blamed on officials and practices he inherited on taking office.

It is also understood that those in the Cele camp regard the timing of the letter as an attempt to remove the commissioner before the announcement of the national crime statistics on September 8.

The figures, showing a drop in most crimes, gave Cele a boost that will make it politically more risky to take action against him.

Several sources in the intelligence community told the Mail & Guardian that the allegations made by suspended crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli were central to Zuma’s doubts about Cele and the shake-up in the State Security Agency.


In October last year Mdluli declassified a secret report — styled a “ground coverage intelligence report” — on “corruption and related activities” in KwaZulu-Natal. It is understood he sent the report to Zuma at about the same time.

The report focused heavily on Cele, claiming that he was part of an anti-Zuma faction which included Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale, Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula and Arts Minister Paul Mashatile, and that Cele was involved in organised crime and corruption in KwaZulu-Natal.

Cele has denied the claims.

The report appears to have been drafted at the time when Mdluli became aware of a renewed investigation into allegations that he had orchestrated the 1999 murder of Oupa Abel Ramogibe.

Ramogibe, whose wife was alleged to have previously been Mdluli’s lover, was shot while in the company of policemen.

It is understood that Cele, soon after Zuma appointed him in July 2009, made the re-opening of the Ramogibe investigation a priority.

Mdluli’s appointment as head of crime intelligence was backed by Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, a political rival of Cele and a vocal backer of Zuma.

The Mdluli report found its way into the public domain at the time of his arrest in March this year.


The M&G reported last week that the Mdluli report was also largely behind the tension between State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele and his domestic intelligence chief, Gibson Njenje.

The report said Njenje had resisted pressure from Cwele to place senior ANC leaders mentioned in the Mdluli report under surveillance.

Now another source has linked foreign intelligence boss Moe Shaik to the investigation of Mdluli.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Shaik had instructed slain underworld figure Cyril Beeka to help track down evidence relevant to the Mdluli murder investigation.

The source, a colleague of Beeka, said: “A week later Cyril was killed.” There is no evidence, however, to suggest any link between the Mdluli saga and the murder.

Mdluli is due back in court on December 14 but, in an apparent bid to shore up the case against him, new charges were laid against him this week.

Hawks’ spokesperson Macintosh Polela said the new charges related to fraud and corruption.


According to Polela the case relates to a discount negotiated by Mdluli for two vehicles bought officially by crime intelligence. It is alleged that Mdluli negotiated a discount and a R50 000 loan from the vehicle dealer, which were to be used to offset a shortfall on his personal vehicle.

Polela would not confirm other newspaper reports that claimed Mdluli had been behind the registration of girlfriends and some of their relatives as paid intelligence sources or employees.

Mdluli’s lawyer, Ike Motloung, described the allegations of fraud and corruption against Mdluli as “a joke”, part of on-going attempts to frame him.

“He was released on bail of R2 000, which has to tell you something,” he said.

Motloung said the state had been ordered by the Boksburg Magistrate’s Court to have its indictment on the murder charges handed in by September 30. “The state now has to show what it has really got.”

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit initiative to develop investigative journalism in the public interest, produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for all our stories, activities and sources of funding.

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Buyeleni Sibanyoni and Sam Sole

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