South Africa

Extra! Extra! Coming soon to a court near you: The Richard Mdluli Show

By Alex Eliseev 16 May 2012

A pro-democracy group will now ask a judge to strip the controversial policeman of his duties until all allegations around him are tested. ALEX ELISEEV sees “people power” at play, and how we landed up here.

Walking away victorious from the court battle against e-tolling, the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance’s Wayne Duvenage asked whether the country was busy discovering a “new consciousness”.

On Tuesday, Freedom Under Law (FUL) revealed it has launched an urgent court interdict to stop Richard Mdluli – one of  the most controversial policeman in South Africa, as difficult as that is  – from executing any of his duties.

In some ways, the cases are different. But in a general sense they illustrate a public prepared to flex its muscles and stand up against decisions being forced on them by the state.

“The purpose of the proceedings is to remedy the series of unlawful and unconstitutional decisions… and to give effect to the rule of law,” the organisation declares. The person behind the application’s founding affidavit is no less than Dr Mamphela Ramphele.

The Mdluli saga has been painted as the greatest threat the country’s justice system has faced since Thabo Mbeki’s attempt to protect then national police commissioner Jackie Selebi. Some have gone further to describe it as a threat to state security.

The Mdluli affair has poisoned and paralysed the police in an unprecedented way, and has caused public confidence in the service to plummet.

From his appointment to lead crime intelligence, to a political decision to shift him out of that role – instead of suspending him – Mdluli has been mired in controversy.

Even Julius Malema, upon his return from a spell of herding cattle in Limpopo, found it politically advantageous to call for Mdluli to be removed. If Malema may not be seen by all as a champion of the justice, his demand was aimed at restoring people’s faith in the police.

“If we can’t trust the police, who can we trust?” the expelled ANC Youth League leader boomed. He then went on to joke that anyone who wanted to have a telephone conversation nowadays, has to first greet the person on the other side of the line, and then say hello to Mdluli.

It was a flippant comment from someone who was probably trying to drum up political points, but it cut to the heart of the problem. The perception that Mdluli has been abusing his power to play politics has created an atmosphere of paranoia. 

In her founding affidavit, Ramphele spells out which decisions they hope to have reviewed: 

(i) the decision by the Head: Specialised Commercial Crime Unit on 6 December 2011 to withdraw criminal charges of fraud, corruption and money-laundering against Gen Mdluli;

(ii) the decision by the Acting National Director of Public Prosecutions on 2 February 2012 to withdraw criminal charges including murder, kidnapping and defeating the ends of justice;

(iii) the decision by the National Commissioner: SAPS on 29 February 2012 withdrawing disciplinary proceedings against Gen Mdluli; and

(iv) the decision on 31 March 2012 by the National Commissioner to reinstate Gen Mdluli as head of Crime Intelligence.

The application has been launched against the police and its minister, Nathi Mthethwa, in order to forbid him to assign Mdluli any duty or responsibility.

The hearing is expected to take place at the North Gauteng High Court (where the e-tolls case was fought, incidentally) on June 5. If an earlier date can be arranged, the case will be heard sooner.

FUL says it will ask the court to question why Mdluli was moved within the police when two of the country’s national police commissioners – Selebi and Bheki Cele – were suspended despite facing less serious allegations.

Opposition parties were quick to accuse Mthethwa of playing musical chairs instead of taking decisive action.

The organisation will also point out that almost 600 officers are currently on suspensions, begging the question: “What makes Mdluli so special?”

“The way in which Mdluli has been dealt with reflects an extraordinary degree of a lack of accountability and a breach of a culture of justification under the constitution,” FUL states.

If one accepts the reported links between Mdluli and Zuma – which have been denied by both men – then what this latest case illustrates is a court battle to overturn another one of Zuma’s most questionable or controversial appointments.

Some of the others include: currently suspended police chief Bheki Cele, the National Prosecuting Authority’s Menzi Simelane, the Special Investigating Unit’s Willem Heath, Constitutional Court chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng and the SA Human Rights Commission’s Lawrence Mushwana.

Much has been said of Zuma allegedly trying to surround himself with people he can trust as the storm clouds of Mangaung begin to gather, particularly within the intelligence and justice clusters.

Criminal charges of fraud and corruption against him may have been dropped, but continue to lurk in the shadows. The Mdluli saga threatens to define Zuma’s term in office and could prove to be – as we’ve reported – his greatest mistake.

If Mdluli’s guilt has yet to be proved, the allegations against him are staggering and have already caused a great deal of damage. They need to be tested in open court or in a judicial enquiry.

Duvenage has welcomed FUL’s legal intervention, saying it is another example of what has become loosely known as “people power”.

“People are using the courts to force change,” he said. “But it’s sad that we’ve had to come to this as a society.” DM

Photo: Richard Mdluli (Bongiwe Gumede/foto24)


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