He has two major advantages: he allegedly fell out of favour with former president Thabo Mbeki and he hails from President Jacob Zuma’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal.
Nhleko started out as a trade unionist in the 1980s, rising through the ranks of Cosatu’s Transport and General Workers’ Union and serving as general secretary between and 1989 and 1993.
He joined South Africa’s first democratic Parliament in 1994, seconded by the union movement, and remained an MP until 2005. In Parliament his political career went from strength to strength.
After chairing the public service committee and the ANC parliamentary caucus, he served as the party’s chief whip and chairperson of the House.
But in 2004, two years after being appointed chief whip, Nhleko was shifted from the post. It was regarded as a “surprise move”, although his successor, Mbulelo Goniwe, denied anything sinister.
There was speculation that he had incurred Mbeki’s displeasure over his handling of then-public protector Lawrence Mushwana’s report on an investigation into Mbeki’s rival and then-deputy Jacob Zuma, who had laid a complaint against former national director of public prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka.
Mushwana’s report found that Ngcuka had abused his office by publicly stating in 2003 that there was a prima facie case of corruption against Zuma in connection with the multibillion-rand arms deal, but that he would not prosecute him because there was little chance of success.
One report, quoting ANC sources, alluded to rumours that Nhleko had given Zuma the original report before it could be changed to protect Ngcuka.
In 2006 Nhleko was appointed KwaZulu-Natal’s regional commissioner of correctional services and was involved in the parole of Zuma’s former financial adviser, the convicted fraudster Schabir Shaik.
After prison doctors recommended Shaik for medical parole, Nhleko reportedly supported the call, saying it would save the department thousands of rands.
In November 2008 he was made deputy municipal manager of KwaZulu-Natal’s uMhlathuze municipality.
No police experience
Nhleko has no police experience, although he was head of the specialised anti-corruption unit in the public service until he moved to the labour department last year.
Presidency spokesperson Mac Maharaj said Zuma was “still processing the [Cele] report ... and will make known his response in due course”.
*This article has been updated. It previously included a quotation that was wrongly attributed to Nhleko.
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