Ayanda Dlodlo. Picture: SIYABUBELA DUDA/ GCIS
Ayanda Dlodlo. Picture: SIYABUBELA DUDA/ GCIS

Newly appointed Home Affairs Minister Ayanda Dlodlo has welcomed back director-general Mkuseli Apleni after the High Court in Pretoria found his suspension to be unconstitutional on Wednesday.

Apleni was suspended by former home affairs minister Hlengiwe Mkhize on several charges including insubordination and a breakdown in relations. Apleni then turned to the court for an application to have his suspension overturned.

However, in the middle of the court battle, Mkhize was moved to the Department of Higher Education and Training during a cabinet reshuffle last week, to be replaced by Dlodlo.

Apleni had alleged that the disagreement was over his stance on litigation involving Fireblade Aviation, which operated a VVIP terminal at OR Tambo International Airport and is owned by the Oppenheimer family. The luxury terminal was at the centre of an unfolding fight between the Gupta and Oppenheimer families.

Fireblade is involved in protracted legal action with the Department of Home Affairs, which denied the firm’s request to install immigration and customs services at the terminal.

On the "precautionary" suspension, it was alleged that Mkhize had exercised powers that were reserved for the president and that had not been delegated to her.

Apleni had submitted that the reasons advanced by the minister for his suspension were invalid, irrational and procedurally unfair, and that Mkhize did not have the power to suspend him — only the president could as he was the authority who had hired him.

Judge Hans Fabricius found that Mkhize was not given such power as the extension of Apleni’s employment contract was approved by the Cabinet, and that the president was the head of the Cabinet.

"The only way in which the minister would have been empowered to suspend him and exercise the power she purported to exercise, was if she had a proper and lawful delegation from the president, which has not occurred," Judge Fabricius said. "The precautionary suspension was ... unlawful and the minister acted ultra vires [beyond one’s legal power]."

Judge Fabricius set aside Apleni’s precautionary suspension and ordered that the minister pay the costs.

Apleni will brief the media at a news conference in Pretoria on Thursday on the judgment.

Dlodlo has welcomed the court judgment.

"The minister has accordingly welcomed the director-general back to his post at the department," said her spokesman Mava Scott.

quintalg@businesslive.co.za

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