“What a circus!” hollered the front cover of the Sunday Times. One day Richard “yo-yo” Mdluli’s in the police. The next he’s not. Then he is, then he’s not. But it’s no circus and we laugh at our peril. By GREG NICOLSON
Former crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli doesn’t care much what people think of him. His attempt to overturn his suspension from the SAPS was both suspect and would inevitably become public knowledge. It’s hardly what you’d expect from a man who once controlled the country’s shadow forces.
On Friday, the Labour Court in Johannesburg lifted the suspension imposed by acting national police commissioner Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi last week. The court said he must be reinstated immediately, meaning he would resume his role with the police and once again gain access to their premises and could keep an eye on those trying to nail him and his political mates.
The judgment took everyone by surprise, not least the SAPS. All parties had been told the matter would be heard on Monday, June 4. “But there were behind-the-scene activities,” said William Mokhari, representing the acting national police commissioner. “At 15:20 on Friday a mysterious court order surfaces and the suspension is lifted.”
Mokhari said the application was “grossly irregular” and bordered on fraud and fraudulent misrepresentation. The SAPS weren’t informed of the change in date nor did Mdluli’s attorney get their consent. Without explanation, Mdluli swapped his attorney Ike Motloung, who’s keeping busy also representing Molemo “Jub Jub” Maarohanye, with Graham Moshoana, who brought the date forward. “The order was improperly obtained by the respondent (Mdluli) behind the applicant’s back,” said Mokhari.
Mkhwanazi was shocked and the SAPS immediately launched an application in the Labour Court to have the order reversed. They were relieved on Sunday after it was overturned because the police weren’t represented. Mokhari claimed they were informed of the change in date an hour and 15 minutes before the hearing. The Labour Court will soon set a new date for Mdluli to apply to have his suspension lifted.
Mkhwanazi suspended Mdluli after a public outcry, led by advocacy group Freedom Under Law, over his reinstatement. Mdluli returned as head of crime intelligence after fraud, corruption and murder charges were dropped. Investigations into the lieutenant-general were continually impeded and the case was mired by allegations of political interference by police minister Nathi Mthethwa and President Jacob Zuma.
Mdluli’s attempt to sneak back into the SAPS would always look bad, but he hasn’t shown much concern for what others think of him. The move adds another “questionable” act to the reams of allegations against him.
But the routine of suspension and reinstatement shows how clearly his supporters and critics are divided. Behind Mdluli we have a clique of police and prosecutors who carry their own baggage from the days when Jackie Selebi was national police commissioner and who need to stand united to hide their secrets.
Then there are the politicians who have reportedly profited from Mdluli’s access to the crime intelligence secret services account, which he is accused to have pillaged for his own benefit, and those who stand to benefit from his ability to monitor political opponents.
On the other side we have a team emboldened to take on Mdluli’s guard. Freedom Under Law has already been instrumental in shining a light on the scandal and uniting public opposition against the reinstatement. Civil society groups Corruption Watch and the Social Justice Coalition recently filed a joint application to join FUL’s court application to prevent Mdluli from doing any police work.
The support gave courage to Mkhwanazi to take action despite political attempts to take the issue out of his hands. He’s backed by a large number of cops embarrassed by what’s going on as well as perceived supporters of Mbeki in the security services who were sidelined when Zuma took office. He’s also got the support of a number of top cops who were overlooked when Mdluli, without strong leadership credentials or an obvious link to Zuma, became head of crime intelligence.
The teams for and against Mdluli have been picked and the latest cycle of suspensions was just one rally in the game, set and match.
Mkhwanazi’s mob seemingly has justice on its side. There’s already an extensive list of allegations against Mdluli and, if the suspension stands, the police will hold an inquiry. FUL is proceeding with its court application and the public protector is holding preliminary investigations. The Hawks are said to be withstanding pressure while continuing their investigation.
But getting the National Prosecuting Authority to charge Mdluli will not be a straightforward job. Despite reports that some charges would have been a slam dunk, they were dropped and a head prosecutor was suspended while refusing to let them go.
“The real thing is still coming our way. Remember, this is just a side show,” said police spokesman Lindela Mashigo after the Labour Court ruling, hinting at how hard it will be to hold Mdluli to account. To do that probably means to have to keep on exposing details of corruption until eventually the NPA is forced to lay a charge.
But possibly not in 2012. With the ANC leadership up for grabs, Zuma can’t risk being involved in a scandal. If he were implicated in political interference it would cripple his chances of winning in Mangaung. And if his ANC stops protecting Mdluli, who knows what sort of dirt the former crime intelligence honcho might be able to reveal?
This weekend’s rally will be repeated over the remainder of 2012 as the teams in the Mdluli affair are engaged in this particular game of one-upmanship. The prize for winning will be freedom, power, money – something definitely worth fighting for. DM
Photo: Richard Mdluli/Bongiwe Gumede/foto 24
While we have your attention...
An increasingly rare commodity, quality independent journalism costs money, though not nearly as much as its absence can cost global community. No country can live and prosper without truth - that's why it matters.
Every Daily Maverick article and every Scorpio exposé are our contribution to this unshakeable mission. It is by far the most effective investment into South Africa's future.
Join our mission to become a Maverick Insider. Together we can Defend Defend Truth.
"Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone" ~ Mark Twain on Jane Austen