South Africa

Reporter’s notebook: Courts, coffee and cigarettes as Mdluli gambles on suspension

By Greg Nicolson 22 June 2012

Former crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli’s lawyers were in the Johannesburg Labour Court on Thursday, wanting his suspension from the SA Police Service overturned. It was a monotonous spin of the carousel but could condemn him as a liar.  By GREG NICOLSON.

The seats in the Labour Court gallery were almost full. Outside, on Juta Street, Braamfontein, two journos smoked. To access the court, they needed to enter the building, lacking the grandeur of other courts, and ride the elevator to level six. “Do you think we’ll hear anything important?” they wondered. “This Mdluli issue never ends.”

Advocates for the former crime intelligence boss and former acting national top cop Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi were back in the Labour Court, contesting Mdluli’s suspension from the SAPS, handed down in May.

Only two months after he was reinstated, following the withdrawal of corruption and murder chargers, Mdluli was suspended by Mkhwanazi, who said he couldn’t ignore the seriousness of the allegations. 

Camera crews from every major station and newspaper photographers crowded outside the courtroom. They waited, ready to rush Mdluli if he came. Unable to take their gear into court, they lingered in various poses of boredom. Obligated to snap the day’s news, they watched their reporters enter and exit the room.

Mdluli’s representative, Graham Moshoana, was adamant Mdluli was never notified of Mkhwanazi’s intention to suspend him. The argument was to be expected. Police management had previously told of their attempts to get hold of Mdluli, since he seemed to have gone underground to avoid the notification and possibly use the argument in Thursday’s hearing.

Moshoana confirmed Mdluli had had a meeting with acting crime intelligence boss Fannie Masemola for two hours on 15 May, but disputed the claim he was given the notice.

William Mokhari, representing the police, said Mdluli was served with the suspension notice at the meeting and, because of his stature in the force, Masemola agreed it could be shown to his lawyers before it was signed and returned the following day. Masemola claimed to have followed up with an SMS on the 16th and a letter on the 17th, asking why Mdluli hadn’t returned the letter. She got no response.

This was because the notice was never served, said Mdluli’s lawyer. He tried to point out contradictions in the police claims and said Mdluli believes Masemola’s follow-up letter is a “fabrication”. It never reached Mdluli’s lawyers, he said, and could have easily been misdirected because it was faxed. 

As court halted for 15 minutes for tea, radio journalists sifted through the heads of argument for a usable snippet before they switched on their news voices. “Mdluli claims police are lying” was the nub of it.

In response, Mokhari said Mdluli’s claims were “far-fetched” and, given the turn of events, the application to have the suspension overturned should be dismissed. He said after the North Gauteng High Court granted Freedom Under Law’s urgent interdict barring Mdluli from doing any police work the Labour Court matter was “academic”.

Mokhari said if the court rules in favour of Mdluli, it would have no effect. The court exists to make enforceable decisions, he claimed, and the interim order prevents such action so the matter should be referred to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration or the Bargaining Council, where it belongs.

Moshoana argued the suspension remains a live issue. “This court is entitled to determine the matter in the way that it sees fit.” Mdluli had a right to be heard before he was suspended and he was denied that right, he claimed. 

After the proceedings, a security manager and teacher discussed the Mdluli saga at a nearby café. “We have no idea how deep this stuff goes,” said one. “All these cops have dirt on each other and can’t risk voicing it,” he added. They suggested the cops know all about the others’ dodgy dealings back to the apartheid days and they have intelligence on our political leaders, which is too sensitive to become public.

Thursday’s Labour Court hearing didn’t add to the information we have on Mdluli or any political interference involved. But depending on its outcome, either Mdluli or Mkhwanazi, praised for his action on the matter, could be seen as a liar.

The saga will creep along for months, even years. And while the hearing was painstakingly monotonous, it’s a crawl closer to the truth about issues that go to the heart of post-apartheid SA: murder, political interference in the judicial system, using crime intelligence to gain political leverage, and corruption.

Judge Andre van Niekerk will rule on the matter at 10:00 on Monday. DM

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Photo: Richard Mdluli (Danielle Karallis/foto24)

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