South Africa

July Riots Hearing

Cele makes startling claims about Public Protector’s alleged links to July unrest instigator ‘Sphithiphithi Evaluator’

Smoke rises from a Makro building set on fire overnight in Umhlanga, north of Durban, on 13 July 2021. (Photo: Rajesh Jantilal / AFP)

Police minister Bheki Cele has made a startling allegation about Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, and her dealings with one of the so-called instigators of the July violence, Zamaswazi Majozi, owner of the Twitter handle Sphithiphithi Evaluator. He said that Majozi was taking him to court for loss of income and that she has also taken the matter to the Public Protector.

Using a tired tactic often adopted by MECs and national ministers when their departments have been found wanting, Police Minister Bheki Cele on Friday distanced himself from the catastrophic failures of the SAPS during the July unrest.

Bheki Cele shifted the blame for the lack of intelligence gathered prior to and during the riots – and the thoroughly inadequate response from the police – to the feet of national commissioner Khehla Sitole, saying that he had to work with provincial commissioners in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng to ensure the unrest was brought under control as he was unable to contact Sitole.

“I don’t remember seeing the national commissioner during [all of the days of unrest]…. I heard he said I was trying to find him in the wrong places… he should have tried to be in the right places. The right places are where things were happening, is where people were dying, is where looting was taking place,” Cele told the South African Human Rights Commission, where he was appearing in person to give evidence as a witness in the organisation’s ongoing probe into the riots and looting.

Cele submitted a statement to the SAHRC last week, but did not read from it on Friday, choosing to instead speak off the cuff. His statement, however, was used on Tuesday by the commission’s evidence leaders to question Sitole about several allegations made by the minister.

When Sitole was asked about Cele saying in his statement that he was unable to contact him during the unrest, the national commissioner responded that the minister was “probably looking in the wrong place”. This is what led to Cele’s response on Friday.

Cele also told commissioners Andre Gaum, Chris Nissen and Philile Ntuli that when he was commissioner, he had specifically taken Sitole from a provincial level to work with him on a national level because he had been impressed by Sitole’s social cohesion programmes within the service particularly his work with young people. “You can give the man a Bell’s on that one, no doubt at all…” said the minister.

It was the discord within SAPS crime intelligence that appears to have strained the relationship and, according to Cele, left the minister without having received any kind of report or early warning about the riots.

This was a breach of statutory obligations, Cele wrote in his statement, where he also said that SAPS was exposed as being “inadequate” because of a “lack of proactive intelligence and crime intelligence’s failure to forewarn”.

“Given the high-profile nature of the subject under discussion, I expected from the national commissioner to obtain and provide me with an initial threat and risk assessment/early warning report, ahead of the unrest, and thereafter through continuous feedback, updates and briefings, with the aim to provide insight and understanding to enable me to make a contribution to broad strategies, policies and resources,” Cele wrote.

Describing the debacle to the commission on Friday, Cele said: “When I was appointed by the president [in 2018, Sitole and I were] having meetings almost every week, and I don’t know how it died, but we rekindled it, and that initiative would come mostly from the office of the minister”.

The SAPS crime intelligence division was seriously underfunded at the time of the unrest, with Cele not having signed off on its just over R500-million budget. He told the commission that the lack of intelligence and his refusal to sign “may have caused that there were not enough capabilities”.

Immediately then trying to justify not signing off on the budget, Cele said: “This money of [the] Secret Service is the most abused money in SAPS. There is a law that says the [police] minister and president and treasury must know about this money. You have money where people just go to eat, to find money to run their conference in Nasrec. People who want to run a parallel conference in Nasrec.”

Here he was referring to the ANC elective conference in Nasrec in December 2017, where Cyril Ramaphosa was narrowly elected president of the party.
The acrimonious relationship between Cele and Sitole has been well documented, and has been punted as a possible reason by commentators and political parties as to why the July unrest was not sooner and better handled. Fanning the flames was the Supreme Court of Appeal earlier this month upholding a High Court ruling that found Sitole, along with two subordinates, in breach of duties relating to the procurement of a R45-million “grabber” prior to the Nasrec conference.

Cele said that money for crime intelligence work was signed off by people who had no authority to do so. He said that this, along with the dismissal of the head of the division and five other members, left him “tempted to say maybe someone was preparing for something we don’t know [by getting rid of top people in crime intelligence].”

He told the commission that he had asked Sitole about the unauthorised personnel signing, and had also told him that he would be initiating an investigation into it which would be reported directly to him as minister.

“When I met with the national commissioner and asked, ‘Where is my report?’ I was told by the national commissioner that he had appointed someone who would investigate. There is a trend there… The trend is that the new people appointed are signing things,” said Cele.

The minister also made a startling allegation about Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, and her dealings with one of the so-called instigators of the July violence, Zamaswazi Majozi, owner of the Twitter handle Sphithiphithi Evaluator.

Cele said that Majozi was “taking [me] to court” for loss of income and other reasons. “She has also taken the matter to the Public Protector. We don’t think it is [appropriate] for the Public Protector to work on a matter that is still in court,” he said.

“This Spithiphiti has been in communication on political matters with the Public Protector about some members, they are in Cabinet. The Public Protector goes to the investigators to get the docket, to [investigate the docket], a hot docket that is in court.”

The police refused the Public Protector, according to Cele, and said that she would have to make an application for it as they could not hand her an active docket. The head of the Hawks, Lieutenant General Godfrey Lebeya, was dealing with the matter, said Cele.

He said that he had to “concede” that there were names of alleged instigators that were “not in the hands of the police, and maybe the police can explain that”.

The SAHRC sessions in Durban closed on Friday and will continue in Gauteng in February. DM

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All Comments 12

  • No one, not Cyril, not Cele nor Sithole take any responsibility for SAPS failure to uphold its constitutional contract with the citizens of South Africa in July! Why is Cyril delaying firing Sithole and replacing Cele? Both have failed South Africa. Both must go.

  • Squirrel has run out of incompetent cadres to fill these posts. If you don’t belong to the ANC or are prone to sunburn, no matter how competent you are, you are not in the running to fill any post at the feeding trough.

  • I am just wondering at what stage any competent person would be willing to take up the chaos and disaster left by years of incompetent mismanagement. Why should competent fix the mess left, well knowing that there will be no political support anyway. Hats off to those who still try. But there is a limit.

  • The observation that the KZN police commissioner took ‘paternity leave’ in the midst of the riots … is it possible he was giving birth to or fathering the insurrection ?

  • Evade, deflect , blame- these tactics are all part of the ANC’ s playbook when faced with accusations of a serious nature. It doesn’t matter to the government that the July riots, insurrection, call it what you will, is together with Marikana, the greatest blot, disaster, catastrophic event to befall the security services in post apartheid South Africa. This commission only serves to illustrate the ANC’s characteristic gaslighting, and does not further the urgent task of bringing the instigators to justice. However, the burning question remains- where is the presidential say and authority in all of this??

  • I am not a Cele fan
    But can you imagine during this sh** storm your National police commissioner and provincial commissioner are on the missing list
    In private sector, it would be a case of, in my office now.
    Paternity leave !!!!!! Cancelled
    Absolute dereliction of duty both should be fired. You could replace them with Mickey mouse and Minnie .
    There is obviously much more to this, Regional/factional fighting and for good measure the incompetent PP to trying to get in on the act
    God only knows where this will end
    Cyril needs some balls but also some trustworthy , capable lieutenant’s and I think finding them in the ranks of Cadres would be akin to finding the proverbial Rocking Horse sh**.

    • No, Mickey and Minnie are not good replacements. I don’t think they have the ability to DROP their respective levels of intellect to the point where they would be acceptable as cadre deployments.