The decision to remove Hawks head Berning Ntlemeza from his position was not malicious, Police Minister Fikile Mbalula said on Thursday.
"In terms of the court judgment, General Ntlemeza is no longer the head of the Hawks and we are implementing the court decision," Mbalula told reporters in Pretoria.
Even if he intended appealing the March 17 judgment by the High Court in Pretoria, its order stood and the chances of a successful appeal were unlikely.
"I am expected to act in the best interest of the public to guard against wasteful and irregular expenditure. This case lacked the prospect of success," Mbalula said.
The court found that when Mbalula’s predecessor Nathi Nhleko appointed him as head of the elite police unit, he had ignored two court judgments which found that Ntlemeza lacked "integrity and honour".
The findings in both judgments constituted "direct evidence" that Ntlemeza was unfit for public office. The court declared his appointment unlawful and invalid and set it aside.
On Wednesday, the High Court in Pretoria dismissed Ntlemeza’s application for leave to appeal its March judgment, with costs. It ordered him to vacate his office immediately. Nhleko had also brought an appeal, which Mbalula withdrew.
The Helen Suzman Foundation and Freedom Under Law brought the case.
Mbalula on Thursday appointed deputy Lt-Gen Yolisa Matakata as acting Hawks head.
"I wish you well in this demanding responsibility. It is my expectation and that of society that all members will rally around you with the support you will require," Mbalula told her.
He hoped the position would be filled permanently by the end of the year.
Until then, Mbalula said he wanted the Hawks to rid itself of the perception that it was being used to fight political battles, instead of serious crime.
"Society perceives the Hawks as a unit with low morale and that is one aspect that must be corrected. We must guard against the perception that we are a useless and [toothless] institution. Our mission is simple, to fight crime and nothing else."
He expressed his concern that the unit was not meeting its targets and making enough arrests.
"The Hawks must be an armed elite unit that is clinical in the way it executes its work. In short, it must be the pride of our people. Therefore, I have instructed those who feel that they are not equal to the task to jump the ship," Mbalula said.
The cases Ntlemeza had started would continue being investigated and his appointments would not be reversed. However, if Hawks senior management wanted to review his decisions, they could.
He allayed fears of a crisis in the unit.
"We are not an institution in crisis or in a state of emergency. We will regroup as a unit."
Mbalula would not comment about whether Ntlemeza had agreed to take an early retirement or if he received a golden handshake.
He had twice met Ntlemeza in person and phoned him to tell him of his decision to withdraw Nhleko’s application for leave to appeal.
"Our decision has never been malicious. It is a decision that is informed first by public interest and equally it is informed by what in our view is a futile exercise," Mbalula said.