Embattled Hawks boss Berning Ntlemeza has been fired with immediate effect after the Pretoria High Court dealt a decisive blow against him on Wednesday.
Ntlemeza suffered a double blow when judges Peter Mabuse‚ Jody Kollepen and Selby Baqwa unanimously dismissed his leave to appeal last month’s Pretoria High Court decision that his appointment – as one of the country’s most powerful policemen – be reviewed‚ and then‚ just hours later‚ ruled he vacate his office.
Ntlemeza on Wednesday failed to return calls for comment. Police Minister Fikile Mbalula’s spokesman‚ Vuyo Mhaga‚ said they would comment on the court’s order on Thursday at a media briefing.
The judges said last month’s Pretoria High Court ruling was to be enforced regardless of whether Ntlemeza appealed to the Supreme Court of Appeal or the Constitutional Court.
Civic organisations the Helen Suzmann Foundation and Freedom Under Law – which for years have fought to have Ntlemeza removed from office ever since separate courts ruled that he was a liar and unfit to hold office – welcomed the decision.
Ntlemeza’s woes began on Wednesday when lawyers representing Mbalula‚ withdrew their support of Ntlemeza at the start of court proceedings.
Mbalula’s predecessor‚ Nathi Nhleko‚ who appointed Ntlemeza to his position‚ had supported him in his appeal.
In a battle to persuade the court to set aside last month’s judgment‚ Ntlemeza’s lawyer‚ Nceba Dukada tried to explain how his client needed to be given a second chance.
“He is in the twilight of his career. He is not an ordinary policeman‚ but rather a senior policeman who occupies a high office.”
He had earlier argued that there was nothing untoward in the fact that damning earlier judgments against Ntlemeza had not been given to the panel conducting interviews for the top Hawks post.
“The panel was merely advising the minister. It was not a statutory body and had no powers under the Police Act.”
Kollepen‚ Mabuse and Bagwa however grilled Dukada over the omission of the documents and the “mere submission of a two page memo” about the judgments against Ntlemeza.
Dukada argued that some of the judgments were conflicting and that another court could come to a different decision on Ntlemeza‚ his character and fitness to hold office.
“There has been no evidence presented to pronounce that my client is not a fit and proper person to occupy this position.
“The issue is not about Ntlemeza being dishonest. What we are arguing is that there are conflicting views by different courts on the same character.
“The minister at the time [Nhleko] was aware of these judgments.”
Dukada was however forced to admit to Kollepen‚ who questioned him over how the panel was meant to do its job‚ that Nhleko was obliged to have ensured the panel was apprised of all documents.
Advocate Carol Steinberg‚ representing the Helen Suzmann Foundation and Freedom Under Law‚ argued that at the heart of the matter were the rulings that Ntlemeza was dishonest and unfit to hold office.
She said his character had direct influence on his position to hold office‚ with the potential to impact the operations of the Hawks.
“Those judgments have never been challenged up until now. They are matter of fact. He is someone‚ who is one of the country’s most powerful policemen‚ who has been found to be a liar. “The question that needs to be asked is whether the minister took these judgments into account.”
She said the fact that the new police minister has withdrawn from the appeal application was significant‚ “as it indicates that he believes another court won’t agree with the appeal”.
“The minister has accepted that this process is flawed.”
Mabuse ruled that the Pretoria High Court’s March ruling would not be suspended and remain in operation “regardless of whether there are any appeals to the Supreme Court of Appeal and Constitutional Court”.
He said they would provide their reasons for their ruling at a later stage.
Helen Suzmann Foundation legal representative Chelsea Ramsden‚ said the rulings upheld the constitution.
Freedom Under Law’s executive officer‚ Nicole Fritz‚ said they were elated.