Brutality, corruption and other problems have been endemic in policing in South Africa since 1994, escalating after 2009. Crime Intelligence has long been the chief offender in corruption stakes but a recent, leaked, report confirms other allegations of intelligence malfeasance: Like the apartheid state, our police run political hit squads. These operations pose a serious threat to the stability of the country but the report was apparently withheld from the SAPS National Commissioner. The Minister of Police stands accused of taking no action, despite knowing about it, which he denies. Instead of parliament and the President demanding answers from the minister, media reports suggest that it is the national commissioner who may need to defend his fitness to hold office, purely because of a court judgment that he and other applicants had breached the IPID Act by failing to give the Directorate what police claimed was classified information. It is clear from other evidence, especially that given to the Zondo Commission by Inspector-General of Intelligence Dintwe, that the commissioner was a victim of political machinations, and has been personally absolved of any blame for the irregular procurements which are the focus of the court case. A careful reading of the judgment suggests that it is a storm in a teacup, especially when compared with the threat posed by the destabilizing activities of CIS, including murder, which could continue because the minister has not taken steps to stop them. Why is Minister Cele not being held to account?
What the public needs to know about the court case
In November 2017, the month of General Sitole’s appointment as National SAPS Commissioner, the police watchdog body IPID opened a case relating to the grossly irregular procurement of spying software by SAPS CIS in December 2016 (termed I-View1). A further planned irregular procurement in November/December 2017 – the notorious grabber electronic interception device (I-View II) – was also included in the litigation involving IPID and the SAPS. Alleging that the SAPS refused to give it documentation needed for investigation, IPID approached a magistrate’s court to obtain subpoenas to force the hand over. The 2018 High Court case, in which the subpoenas were a bone of contention, seems to have been a response to this move by four Applicants, three of whom, including the national commissioner, were police. The fourth Applicant, Mbindwane, an advisor to (and presumably representative of) then Police Minister Mbalula, was subsequently exposed as being the key player in the sorry saga of the grabber. The Applicants consistently argued that they could not provide the documentation because it was classified, so only the JSCI (Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence) could declassify it. When this 2018 case was finally heard in court in mid-2020, Counsel for the SAPS argued that IPID should formally write to the commissioner, detailing the documents required, and demanding that they be handed over within a specified time period.
In summing up, the judge accepted the commissioner’s argument that the subpoenas should be set aside, as the whole matter was surrounded by confusion, compounded by the absence of a proper court record. The core issue of the police’s refusal to hand over what it said was classified information remained. Referring to the 2016 procurement the judge commented that ‘ It appears that his [the commissioner’s] involvement might be limited to the classification of the relevant documents’. Why Sitole would have classified 2016 documentation is not interrogated. There was also a major focus on the attempted grabber procurement, but to contextualise that – especially its alleged link to ‘national security’ – the evidence of the Inspector-General (I-G) of Intelligence to the Zondo Commission is crucial. This evidence was given in May 2021, several months after the January 2021 judgment in the case which had dragged on for almost three years. At some stage, however, the documentation had been de-classified and handed to IPID.
From I-G Dintwe’s evidence, the blame for the grabber procurement lies squarely with ministerial adviser Mbindwane, who pursued the need for the equipment doggedly, arguing that there was threat to national security, and inferring that foreign intelligence agents planned to infiltrate the Nasrec conference and influence the choice of who would be future president of South Africa. Even the Commander-in-chief had been briefed about the threat. The I-G was aware of the debacle over the classification of the documents and stressed that this process was abused, mentioning that even the regulations about it were classified! Of great concern is his testimony about the failure of oversight by relevant parliamentary bodies, especially the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence (JSCI). He also clarified that, in addition to the IPID criminal investigation, his office was conducting an oversight investigation into these irregular procurements (whether this was an obstacle to police accessing documentation is not clear). He emphasized that Sithole had consistently insisted that proper procurement processes be followed, and that he had not authorized the acquisition of the grabber by signing documents. When he heard about it going ahead, he immediately stopped payment. It also seems that incorrect information disseminated by Minister Cele had added to the confusion.
Enter the leaked counter-intelligence report
In August 2021 details of an alarming SAPS counter-intelligence report were leaked to the media. This report detailed how undercover CIS members in KZN were implicated in plans to assassinate politicians and sow discord in the ANC (Project Blow Out and Project Wave) Three of those named had been members of the apartheid security police who had been given amnesty by the TRC. Secret service slush funds had been used to acquire the car, and the AK 47, used in the attack on Sindiso Magaqa, who was shot in July 2017 and later died in hospital. An untrustworthy informer was killed, and police are among those standing trial for the Magaqa killing, The media subsequently reported that General Sitole was trying to access the report he apparently had no knowledge of,. and demanding answers about what had been happening under his watch. According to the KZN CIS head, the report had been passed to then national CIS head General Jacobs who had passed it to the ministerial task team investigating political killings in January 2019. However, no prosecutions followed, allegedly because the minister (Cele) had instructed that no one should be charged as it would embarrass the SAPS. The minister, whose close connections with certain CIS operatives are public knowledge, has denied knowing about the report.
The plight of whistle-blower Thabiso Zulu, his unceasing quest for justice for Magaqa, and the refusal of the minister to provide him with protection despite attempts on his life, is well known. At least one CIS member (name known) is keeping Zulu under surveillance; he is believed to be linked to the police who abused him during a malicious arrest in July 2020. Rogue CIS members are also alleged to instigate civil unrest, including the burning of trucks.
Is the President in charge?
A media article reports that General Sitole has written to the President ‘to save his job’. But why should a costly formal inquiry into his fitness to hold office be needed when full information about procurement and classification is accessible, and all documentation has been handed to investigators who will be able to ascertain where the blame lies? The suggestion is irrational. The court judgment is old hat, but the threat posed by murderous Crime Intelligence operatives is alive and well, so why is nothing being done about it?
Commander-in-chief Ramaphosa assured Thabiso Zulu personally that he would receive protection, but since that did not happen, the Minister of Police, who opposes it, presumably countermanded the presidential order. Being able to exercise this type of influence begs the question of whether it is Cele who is pushing the President to suspend Sitole? Police Ministers already exercise too much power as they also control IPID, which has still not been given the independence from the ministry ordered by Concourt. It is an open secret that Cele wants to run the police himself, and Sitole is the only bulwark against giving him that type of absolute power with its potential to corrupt absolutely.
Minister Cele controls the ministerial task team into political killings in KZN, so there is already a serious conflict of interest since killers may be among his political colleagues. Is this why this team has been so spectacularly unsuccessful in obtaining convictions in dozens of high-profile killings? Now it is alleged that he knew about the hit squad report and, willfully, failed to ensure that people accused of murder, and serious crimes against the state, were exposed and charged. They remain free to carry on destabilizing and, for all we know, may have been implicated in what the President insists was an ‘attempted insurrection’ in July. What are parliamentary oversight bodies, and the President himself, doing about the fact that, if the leaked report is accurate, it is the Minister of Police who is jeopardizing the safety of South Africa?