Cele 'vindicated' as court finds SAPS not liable for whistle-blower protection
After taking it under review, the high court in Pretoria has overturned and set aside a report by Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, which stated that police minister Bheki Cele had failed in his duty to provide witness protection for two KwaZulu-Natal whistle-blowers.
The two witnesses, Thabiso Zulu and Lesley Stuta, had been witnesses in Mkhwebane's investigation into alleged multimillion-rand corruption in the uMzimkhulu local municipality. They also had ties to the ANC councillor, Sindisiwe Magaqa, who was gunned down after passing on to the Hawks documents that allegedly proved corruption in the tender for upgrading uMzimkhulu Memorial Hall.
According to Cele’s office, the court on Wednesday reiterated that the two whistle-blowers should be given protection by the department of justice and not the police.
“In what is becoming a familiar sight, yet another court has declared a report by the public protector invalid. This time, the North Gauteng High Court has found the public protector to have misdirected herself, in saying the SA Police Service should provide personal protection to the two witnesses.
“In a separate but related matter, the same court granted an order on March 26, which stated that Thabiso Zulu is only entitled to witness protection, provided by the department of justice & constitutional development and not the SAPS,” the statement read.
Mkhwebane had written a scathing report in August 2018 in which she accused Cele of gross negligence, improper conduct and maladministration.
She had also called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to reprimand Cele for what she termed a “lapse in judgment”, adding that he had endangered the lives of these men.
Cele has welcomed the ruling which has since declared Mkhwebane’s report invalid, setting it aside.
“The turn of events has vindicated the SA Police Service and restored its integrity, especially since the public protector’s report swayed public opinion to come across as if the SAPS was simply dragging its feet in protecting whistle-blowers,” Cele said.
Cele, however, said Mkhwebane should have known that it was not the police ministry that was behind the assignment of witness protection.
“It has always been clear that while protection of witnesses is paramount, it remains the sole responsibility of the National Prosecution Authority as stated in the Witness Protection Act. The public protector should have known this,” he said.
TimesLIVE has since reached out to the department of justice to enquire about the status of the protection of Zulu and Stuta.