Chandré Prince, Graeme Hosken and Dominic Mahlangu
POLITICAL pressure from some senior ANC officials and the concerns of cabinet ministers led to yesterday’s surprise removal from office of controversial police spy boss Lieutenant-General Richard Mdluli.
After weeks of trying to shift responsibility for dealing with the Mdluli saga to police management, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa announced a long- awaited decision to temporarily demote the crime intelligence boss.
Though Mthethwa told parliament during his police budget speech the decision had been taken by him and acting national police commissioner Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi, concerns raised by senior ANC politicians, and threats by some in police crime intelligence to resign, led to yesterday’s decision.
Mdluli, who attended the parliamentary session, put on a brave face as the decision was taken to shift him from his dual position of crime intelligence and VIP protection boss with immediate effect. “I am happy. I’m a policeman, I can work anywhere,” a smiling Mdluli said.
But a senior government official said: “What kind of a state do we have when those charged with responsibilities to govern are afraid to do their job because they fear they are being spied on?”
This week, Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula revealed that when he was deputy police minister he had suspected that his phone was being bugged.
He said when he questioned Mdluli about it, the spy boss had denied it.
But he had later discovered that Mdluli, in a report to President Jacob Zuma, had listed him as being part of a plot to unseat Zuma. Yesterday, it was reported that an “explosive” affidavit by Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale about Mdluli was one of the items stolen from Sexwale’s lawyer’s home during a burglary.
But two senior government officials, who did not want to be named, said Mdluli’s removal was “just a ploy to divert attention from the security and political mess Mdluli has created”.
“If they are serious about resolving this matter, why are they not suspending him? Why shift him to another division?
“Mdluli must be taken out of the police if the suspicion of him being protected by [people in] high office is to be removed.
“Most of us remain convinced that Mdluli is there to safeguard a political project. The announcement that he is being shifted is nothing but a game.”
A senior ANC official said the tactic was a ploy to “buy time”.
“But we are not letting go; pressure must bear on him until his masters come out.”
Mthethwa’s spokesman Zweli Mnisi denied the decision to reassign Mdluli was political, insisting it had been based on discussions between Mthethwa and Mkhwanazi. Mnisi said the decision had been taken after recent rows between senior police managers sparked by the “widely reported” letter.
In parliament, Mthethwa said: “There have been unfortunate public accusations and counter-accusations in police management … sparked by a letter reportedly written by Mdluli to, among others, the police minister.
“The letter seems to have political connotations and has caused tension within police management, alluding to some conspiracy theory of some in management ganging up against him.”
Mthethwa said the state law adviser would lead a team to investigate Mdluli’s letter, in which he alleged there was a conspiracy by senior police officers to oust him. “This team is specifically investigating the letter and not financial mismanagement and alleged nepotism in crime intelligence, which is being looked at by the inspector- general for intelligence,” he said.
Mkhwanzi said Mdluli’s removal was “part of my clean-up, which is only at its beginning”.
Asked if more officers would be shifted, Mkhwanazi said: “There are those, who if they still need to be dealt with, will be dealt with.”
He confirmed he would take control of the crime intelligence division.
As the axe fell on Mdluli, senior policemen in his unit yesterday revealed more of his heavy-handed and intimidating tactics.
At least three officers who worked under Mdluli before he was suspended in April last year said more than a dozen experienced crime intelligence officers had applied for transfers after hearing he would command them again.
“There is no way we can work with that man. He sends shivers down our spines. We worked in a stressful environment knowing he had scores to settle with some members of his unit.”
One of the crime intelligence officers – who initially investigated Mdluli for murder, kidnapping, assault and intimidation charges, which have since been provisionally withdrawn – applied for a provincial transfer a few months ago.
Senior members of the organised crime unit, including from the Hawks, and from the commercial crimes unit, have also threatened to resign.