Media reports alleging that National Police Commissioner General Bheki Cele has been fired “can only be a product of editorial incompetence or corruption”, his office says. In a statement, police denied that Cele had ever been informed that he had been fired as National Police Commissioner or that he had accepted an ambassadorial [sic] posting to Canada.
The police is expected to take up the matter further with the Sunday Independent that published the story, the state BuaNews agency reports. “In line with the SAPS’ fervent conviction that the newspaper that published this manufactured story cannot produce a single document to back up its assertions or point to, at least, two independent sources for its story, the organisation will be writing to the proprietors of the newspaper in question to request that they institute an internal investigation into the underlying factors behind the shocking lapse in basic quality control and accuracy check processes that led to the story being published,” it said.
The police service will ask the newspaper’s owners to release the findings of their investigation within 21 days. Police further assured the public that Cele was “entrenched” in his position as National Commissioner. The “dirty tricks” employed by those who did not want to see government succeed in eradicating crime would not distract or destabilise police, BuaNews reported the police as saying.
“As for the disinformation campaign that elements of the criminal underworld and their allies within our society have been running with the assistance of some of their friends in the media, the [SA Police Service] would like to remind South Africans that the Public Protector did not find any evidence of corrupt and illegal activity in the so-called police lease saga,” it added.
Cele expressed confidence in the process put in the place by President Jacob Zuma, after the Public Protector’s report was published. “Over the past year or so, I have been more than careful not to engage in any manner that may have given rise to accusations that I sought to interfere with the freedom of the media. I have availed myself at all times to answer any question anyone may have had to ask of me. “In the final analysis, for the sake of our hard-won democracy, I hope that media practioners are awake to spot enemies of media freedom even if they are within their own ranks,” Cele said.
The Presidency denied the report on Sunday, calling it a “fabrication”.
“The President wrote to the National Commissioner on August 29 requesting his response as to why he should not be suspended, following the report of the Public Protector on [Cele’s role in two controversial rental] lease agreements. The National Commissioner responded to the President citing his side of the story,” the Presidency said in a statement on Sunday.
Zuma “is considering the National Commissioner’s response and that is where the matter stands at the moment. The allegations published by Independent Newspaper products are therefore without basis whatsoever,” the statement added.
Sunday Independent editor Makhudu Sefara said the newspaper stood by its story, which had been obtained from “impeccable” sources. “Our information is that Cele will indeed not be in the SAPS by December (and) would have left by end-November,” said Sefara. He added sources in the Department of International Relations and Co-operation said Cele had started initial diplomatic training. “We are confident of the story. We put it through very rigorous testing. We wouldn’t have put a date on his departure if we were not reliably informed of it,” Sefara said.
The Sunday Independent said Zuma had “relieved” Cele of his duties over his role in the R1.7 billion police lease deals and he would vacate his office at the end of next month. In her investigations into the deals earlier this year, the Public Protector found Cele to have acted in a manner that was “improper, unlawful and amounted to maladministration”. The Sunday Independent cited two senior government officials as having confirmed Cele had been asked to leave and that he would be joining the legion of “problematic” top bureaucrats who were suspected of fraud, maladministration and corruption or incompetence and who had been posted to missions abroad. The government officials were quoted as saying Cele had accepted a posting to Canada.