SAPS IN CRISIS ANALYSIS
Axed detective boss Jeremy Vearey will still push for reinstatement after dismissal decision upheld
A bargaining council has upheld the decision to fire Western Cape detective boss Jeremy Vearey. But this does not spell the immediate end of the South African Police Service (SAPS) road for him, as he plans to apply to take on this latest finding. Daily Maverick has established that in his finding, arbitrator Imthiaz Sirkhot appears to have made two errors that could be used to bolster the review application.
Jeremy Vearey will continue pushing to be reinstated into the police service after a bargaining council found that his dismissal about five months ago was effectively warranted.
Vearey was fired as cracks in the SAPS became even wider, showing just how divided the country’s police service is, especially at management level.
National Police Commissioner Khehla Sitole himself faces possible suspension in an unrelated saga.
Sitole signed off on Vearey’s dismissal, over a series of Facebook posts, at the end of May in a move that seemed to pit the country’s top cop against Vearey and police officers seen to be his allies.
Vearey then challenged his firing via the Safety and Security Sectoral Bargaining Council. He was the applicant in this matter, while the SAPS was the respondent.
On Tuesday, 16 November arbitrator Imthiaz Sirkhot ruled that Vearey’s dismissal was “substantively fair”, meaning Vearey was unsuccessful in his quest to be reinstated.
“The trust relationship between [Vearey] and [the SAPS] has broken down irretrievably,” Sirkhot said.
However, it does not mean the overall matter is finished.
Vearey, his legal representative Johann Nortje, and the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union confirmed to Daily Maverick on Tuesday that Sirkhot’s finding would be taken on review.
Daily Maverick has further established that in his finding, Sirkhot appears to have made two errors that could be used to bolster the review application.
One was a reference to Major-General André Lincoln, the head of the Western Cape Anti-Gang Unit who retired at the end of October this year — Sirkhot referred to Lincoln as a “colonel,” a lower rank.
This has a bearing on the Vearey dismissal matter because Vearey, who was a major-general, was effectively accused of being a bad influence on junior officers.
Sirkhot also referred to Colin Arendse, a former police reservist from Cape Town who is outspoken about policing issues, as “Colonel Colin Arendse,” even though Arendse is not a member of the police service.
Arendse appeared in the matter because senior police officer Lieutenant-General Francina Vuma (who may also face suspension with Sitole in the separate saga) felt threatened by a message, apparently an email, allegedly sent to her from Arendse, which Vearey said had nothing to do with him.
However, Sirkhot, in his ruling this week, said the email had to do with Vearey’s Facebook posts.
“The Applicant as a senior officer should have reprimanded Colonel Arendse and his failure to do so demonstrates that he associated himself with the contents of the email,” Sirkhot found. Arendse is not a colonel in the police.
The Vearey dismissal saga ostensibly stems from several Facebook posts he made between December 2020 and February 2021. These posts contained Vearey’s comments, which did not refer to anyone by name, with links to news articles that referenced tensions within the police service.
One of the Facebook posts contained the words “moer hulle” which an online function had translated to “fuck them” and which certain police officers viewed as unacceptable. Vearey himself had not posted the words “fuck them”.
He previously explained he had used “moer hulle” in his dialect, Afrikaaps, and not Afrikaans and had meant the words as encouragement.
In his finding on Tuesday, Sirkhot said Vearey could have used any other words aside from “moer hulle” on Facebook.
“It is rather telling that the Applicant emboldened the words ‘Moer Hulle’ in capital letters… The Applicant wanted his followers to pay attention to these words. It was irresponsible for the Applicant as a senior member of management to use these words,” Sirkhot’s finding read.
“Anyone accessing his Facebook posts would think that the Applicant is speaking on behalf of the Respondent or would come to the conclusion that the Applicant was rising up against National Commissioner Sitole.”
Sirkhot said Vearey’s Facebook posts elicited several comments, including from fellow police officers.
This is where Sirkhot referenced Lincoln with the incorrect rank.
“In particular, Colonel Andre Lincoln told the Applicant to keep his fighting spirit high,” Sirkhot said.
Sirkhot further said that Vearey replied to Lincoln, saying “they came for” Peter Jacobs and were “coming for” him, Vearey, too.
Jacobs was the police’s Inspectorate head who was controversially transferred out of Crime Intelligence in March this year.
(Previously, in various policing matters that have landed in court, Lincoln, Vearey and Jacobs — who all have similar histories in the ANC and who have been based in the Western Cape — have claimed that police bosses are targeting them. Vearey has said this is because they have exposed corruption in the SAPS.)
Vearey’s response to Lincoln further said: “Let us show them what warriors of principle can do. But this time around, we face a more insidious foe, an axis of quislings who pretended to be our brothers.”
Sirkhot said Vearey “was adding fuel to the fire by inciting a junior officer”.
Lincoln was not a junior officer.
Sirkhot found that Vearey’s Facebook posts “undermine public trust and confidence” in the police service.
“[His] conduct… impairs discipline, disrupts harmony and has a detrimental impact on close working relationships for which loyalty and confidence are necessary.”
Sirkhot further found that: “The crux of the matter for the Applicant was that he was entitled to comment on the media articles by virtue of clause 19(10) (f)(vi) of the National Instruction which provides for employees to share government news if that information has already been officially published in the public domain.
“This clause was never mentioned in evidence either by the Applicant or by any of the other witnesses.”
Daily Maverick recorded that Vearey was questioned about the clause of the National Instruction during re-examination by his legal representative in September during the hearing into his dismissal.
In his findings, Sirkhot warned that social media platforms created several new issues that did not exist a few decades ago.
“We have become so accustomed to tweeting, instagramming, Facebooking, googling, text and mailing, that people confuse the privacy of free speech with its publication on the internet,” he said.
“People seem to think that they are not physically connected to the internet, that it exists ‘somewhere there’ like a nebulous ‘cloud’. It was not a problem before the internet because venting, joking and letting off steam was confined to locker rooms, family and friends, we were physically with the recipients of our speech, so we tailored it for their ears.”
Sirkhot said people needed to be held to account for what they posted online.
“The internet is permanent, once you hit ‘share’ or ‘like’ it’s part of a permanent set of footprints that you have left in the cyber sand, it’s discoverable,” he said.
Last month, Daily Maverick reported that despite a ruling not yet being made on Vearey’s firing, the job he was dismissed from had been advertised.
The closing date to apply for it was 15 November 2021 — the day before Sirkhot’s ruling that Vearey’s dismissal be upheld. DM