Thapelo Lekabe

By Thapelo Lekabe

Senior Digital Journalist

Minister Bheki Cele says he has no plans of resigning but will step down if Ramaphosa asks

Cele maintains that he and Sitole are not friends, and dismissed rumours that they are not on talking terms as 'lies'.

Amid growing calls for Police Minister Bheki Cele to resign over the South African Police Service’s (Saps) inadequate response to last year’s deadly civil unrest in July, Cele on Wednesday said he had no plans to step down from office, but would do so if President Cyril Ramaphosa asked to.

“The president doesn’t even have to ask me to resign. He just has to tell me to go and I’ll go, happily so,” Cele said in an interview on eNCA’s Power to Truth with JJ Tabane programme.

July 2021 civil unrest

The minister has been faced increasing pressure from opposition parties, civil society organisations and police unions to vacate office.

This after a report by a panel of experts appointed by Ramaphosa, to probe the security cluster’s response to the July 2021 unrest, found that the strained relationship between him and outgoing National Police Commissioner General Khehla Sitole may have contributed to the police’s failure to respond adequately to the violence and looting.

Despite this, Cele said he was doing a good job as the police minister and did not believe that his spats with Sitole led the Saps’ “inadequate and insufficient” response to the riots in parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng that claimed the lives of over 300 people and caused extensive economic damage running into billions of rand.

ALSO READ: Internal ANC problems a matter of national security – July riots report

Cele maintained that he and Sitole were not friends, but was coy on whether their working relationship had soured a long time ago.

“I just don’t understand what relationship broke down [between me and Sitole] because he’s the national commissioner and I’m the minister.

“We talk, we attend meetings together [and] we raise issues, but we are not friends. We don’t leave the office together and go and drink together or whatever,” he said.

Cele also dismissed rumours that he and Sitole were not on talking terms as “lies”.

“The working relationship for me was a normal relationship of people that work together,” he asserted.

Sitole’s axing

Last month, the Presidency announced that Ramaphosa had, by mutual agreement, terminated Sitole’s employment contract with effect from 31 March 2022.

READ MORE: Khehla Sitole steps down

Ramaphosa and Sitole apparently agreed that the early termination of the commissioner’s contract was “in the best interests of the country”.

But opposition parties and police unions questioned why Cele remained in his position given the findings by the panel of experts.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) welcomed Ramaphosa’s decision to terminate Sitole’s employment, but said “Cele must follow suit if the president is serious about starting the hard work of rebuilding trust and credibility” in the Saps.

“The tit-for-tat political spat between General Sitole and Minister Cele has rendered the Saps ungovernable.

“A complete overhaul at the very top is necessary to undo the damage caused by both men,” said DA MP and spokesperson on police, Andrew Whitfield, said at the time.

‘Factional interests’

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), on the other hand, described Sitole’s early termination as “yet another instance of misfiring by Cyril Ramaphosa that is based purely on factional interests”.

The Red Berets said Sitole became a casualty of Ramaphosa’s “cowardice and attempt to please his henchman Bheki Cele”.

The EFF believes that the police minister is at the centre of the challenges confronting the Saps, and he should be fired too.

At the same time, police unions and civil society organisations echoed calls by the July unrest panel for the appointment procedure of the national police commissioner, as set out in the Constitution, to be changed.

“The attempts in legislation to try and delineate the powers of the police minister from those of the commissioner, while commendable, have introduced some confusion over the years.

“We were informed that whether the relationship between a minister and a commissioner works depends on the individuals occupying the posts. This is clearly untenable and, if it requires closer scrutiny of the process leading to the appointment of the national commissioner, this should receive urgent attention,” the panel said in its report.

NOW READ: Cele fires another shot at Sitole

Access premium news and stories

Access to the top content, vouchers and other member only benefits