The latest Cabinet reshuffle momentarily delayed and confused the court as former home affairs director-general Mkuseli Apleni, who is challenging his suspension, now has a new boss.
During the North Gauteng High Court's adjournment for lunch, Judge Hans Fabricius learnt that President Jacob Zuma had just announced a Cabinet reshuffle which could have a direct impact on the urgent application he was dealing with.
Apleni is challenging his suspension, with the crux of his argument being that it is only the president who can either suspend or dismiss him; alternatively the president needs to confer those powers to the minister of home affairs. He wants his suspension declared invalid and for him to be reinstated.
The reshuffle threw a curve ball at the court as the official responsible for suspending Apleni was former minister of home affairs Hlengiwe Mkhize who has now been recycled as the minister of higher education and training after Blade Nzimande got the chop.
The new minister of home affairs is Ayanda Dlodlo, who was the minister of communications.
Fabricius asked the legal teams representing home affairs, the Presidency and Apleni if the reshuffle wouldn't render many of their arguments moot. He stood the matter down to allow counsel to take directions.
Zuma, Mbeki letters
After the adjournment, William Mokhari, SC, for Apleni, told the court the legal counsel for home affairs could not take directions as the team did not have the contact details for the new minister, Dlodlo.
It was agreed between the parties that arguments could be concluded and that the court would be informed if the suspension of Apleni was lifted by Dlodlo.
Mokhari argued that it was only Zuma who could either suspend, discipline or fire Apleni as the president of the country holds executive authority.
He argued that just as the president must hire the heads of state departments, he must also make the decision to discipline, suspend or even dismiss them. Alternatively the president can confer these powers to a minister to use at their own discretion.
In view of this, Mokhari said a letter from Zuma to the minister of agriculture in January stated that a minister may not discipline the head of the department.
Mokhari said this letter stands as an order for all ministers.
Garth Hulley, SC, for home affairs, argued that a letter written by former president Thabo Mbeki in 1999 giving power to ministers to suspend, discipline or fire heads of departments still stands.
Apleni 'undermining' minister
Apleni argued that he was suspended because he wouldn't help settle disputes, one of which was with Alantas corporate travel over R1m and had to do with the former minister's son.
Sizwe Mkhize allegedly wrote to the department to settle the matter out of court and also said he had sent the letter to his mother.
"How can the minister say she didn't know about it when the minister's son says he has forwarded the issue to his mother?" said Tembeka Ngcukaitobi for Apleni.
Hulley countered this argument and said that Mkhize and Apleni had never even discussed the dispute which involved her son and that she had never received correspondence about the issue.
"The applicant (Apleni) continues to undermine the minister and, as she puts it, threatens mutiny, so the minister had ample reasons to suspend," said Hulley.
Judgment has been reserved.