On Monday morning, former Hawks head Berning Ntlemeza ignored Police Minister Fikile Mbalula's dismissal of him as head of the unit, and returned to work. But it won't be comfortable for everyone.
Last week, Ntlemeza said that he would be approaching the Supreme Court of Appeal to challenge the judgment made by the High Court in Pretoria a month ago. the High Court set aside his appointment, declaring it unlawful and invalid. News 24 reported that his lawyer, Comfort Ngidi, said that according to the Superior Courts Act, the execution of a decision which is the subject of an appeal is suspended pending the decision of an appeal.
Senior researcher for the Institute for Security Studies' the crime and justice programme Johan Burger told The Huffington Post SA on Monday that Ntlemeza could legally return to work for as long as it took for the courts to come to a final decision on the matter, but that it is going to "cause a difficult and tense situation for everyone, including Ntlemeza himself".
Burger explained Ntlemeza would still need to report to Mbalula, the same minister who fired him, and that it would create tension with all who were in the Hawks office.
Mbalula wrote to Ntlemeza last week, according to City Press: "You are hereby informed to hand in all the assets of the employer, including tools of trade, within 24 hours from receipt of this letter and vacate the office". But Ntlemeza told City Press that only Parliament could remove him, citing the Police Act that says that Parliament must remove the head of the Hawks.
Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Zakhele Mbhele told News 24 on Monday Police Minister Fikile Mbalula could and should use his power in terms of the SAPS Act and suspend Ntlemeza. According to News 24, DA members picketed outside the Hawks headquarters and chanted "Ntlemeza must go" as word spread that he had arrived at the building. A few police officers were also camped outside, monitoring the situation.
Ntlemeza's defiance of the court order means that he possibly faces a contempt of court conviction.
Lobby groups Freedom Under Law and the Helen Suzman Foundation brought the application seeking to undo Ntlemeza's appointment.
Ntlemeza plans to challenge the court's findings at the Supreme Court of Appeal, and until then, he believes he remains a member of The Hawks. One of Ntlemeza's former deputies has been appointed as acting head of the Hawks.
Legal expert James Grant told HuffPost SA last week said Ntlemeza could not return to work.
He said that Ntlemeza seems to believe that he has been fired, when this is not the case. His appointment was set aside, which is a different legal issue entirely, he said.
"He is not the head of the Hawks anymore, and that's not because he has been fired but because his appointment is invalid. Parliament doesn't have to sign off on the invalidity of the decision to appoint him in the first place. Parliament would have business here if he was being dismissed, but he is not being dismissed. That lies at the core of his understanding," Grant said.