Police wars: ‘Great balls of fire’ shoots back
In a hastily convened, last-minute press conference on Thursday, acting national police commissioner Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi slammed reports that the SAPS has abused the crime intelligence budget under his watch. He accused The Star of being “cooked to mislead the public” and urged media to be weary of enemies plotting against him. Then he allegedly threatened the journalist who reported the allegations. By GREG NICOLSON.
On Thursday, under the heading “Saps Spending Row”, The Star featured an edited picture of Mkhwanazi facing off with former crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli. In the background is the SAPS logo. It doesn’t take a masters degree to decode the message and the caption offers a succinct summary.
Like suspended crime intelligence chief lieutenant-general Richard Mdluli, left, acting national police commissioner lieutenant-general Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi has to explain how secret services account funds were spent,” it reads.
The Star revealed the contents of a secret report it says will soon be presented in Parliament to the joint standing committee on intelligence. It alleges that under Mkhwanazi’s watch R35-million from the crime intelligence secret services fund was used to buy luxury vehicles, later transferred to other departments including his amaBarette Tactical Response Team.
The report says the 2011/12 operational budget for crime intelligence was not going to be spent so its acting divisional commissioner, Fannie Masemola “went on a spending spree, acquiring 140 luxury vehicles, among them BMW X3s, Audi Q5s, the latest Jeep SRTs and the latest BMW 320 models.”
“The operational budget for goods and services could not be utilised and the current acting management actually committed serious financial misconduct by shifting vast amounts of money to capital expenditure,” reads the exclusive report.
Mkhwanazi was fuming. His spokesman wasn’t able to comment before the article was written but the acting national police commissioner addressed journalists on Thursday evening, perhaps unsurprisingly, after being compared to one of the most hated men in SA, Mdluli, amid an obvious battle within the police as he’s been cleaning the rot within crime intelligence.
He said he welcomes an investigation but accused The Star of “purporting untrue reports” which he said “should be dismissed with the seriousness it deserves”. “Members of the media, this information should not be cooked to mislead the public,” he said. “The South African Police Service certainly does not just procure goods and services ‘just for the sake of spending’,” said Mkhwanazi, reiterating SAPS’s core role is to protect and serve the public.
He explained that R35-million was spent on 149 vehicles for crime intelligence after a needs report was completed. “The average cost of each vehicle was approximately R235,000 and 95% of the vehicles procured comprised of vehicles with an engine capacity of 1.4 litres to 2.0 litres,” he said, suggesting they weren’t luxury vehicles.
“More importantly, not a single one of these newly procured vehicles were moved to another division within the SAPS as suggested in the article.” After becoming acting commissioner he said he had ordered SAPS vehicles to be transferred from crime intelligence managers, who are meant to procure their own cars, to other divisions.
Mkhwanazi said he will raise the issue with other authorities. “When people go and fabricate stories it’s a sad state of affairs in our country if we live like that. It’s unfortunate (that) some of your colleagues don’t verify this information,” he told media. “We are here today because of certain newspapers that wrote certain things and unfortunately it gets the world talking. Are there facts on that? We don’t know.”
He warned the media there will be more stories on him because of what he’s doing in crime intelligence. “There is going to be bad publicity because I already know there are a group of individuals who are planning things… There are a lot of plans that people are doing just to discredit this management of the SAPS, and it’s a sad story.”
In response, Star editor Makhudu Sefara said the newspaper stands by its article and, after seeing the document, he’s confident the secret crime intelligence report was not a fake. He said after the ANC’s national elective conference in Polokwane he is aware of the importance of not being dragged into factional battles ahead of Mangaung.
Sefara said he wasn’t certain that the police were divided into factions like the ANC but Mkhwanazi’s comments confirm the division, which is worrying for South Africa. That the acting commissioner wouldn’t elaborate on certain details suggested The Star’s article was accurate, said Sefara. He said it relied on “quite a number of sources” and was the result of “much digging”.
Mkhwanazi was visibly angered at the press conference, held at Pretoria’s police training academy. After it was over, Sefara said the acting commissioner asked The Star journalist Solly Maphumelo if she had written the article “SAPS Spending Row”. Confirming it was her, the top cop allegedly responded: “We will meet in heaven.”
Maphumelo asked whether he was threatening her. “I don’t threaten people. Why would I do that?” Mkhwanazi allegedly responded.
The alleged exchange, which is sure to headline in today’s Star, could do irreparable damage to Mkhwanazi’s image. After suspending Mdluli, seen as an ally of police minister Nathi Mthethwa and President Jacob Zuma, Mkhwanazi’s job as acting commissioner is already on thin ice. The president is said to have fired the suspended national commissioner, Bheki Cele, and finding a replacement for both Cele and Mkhwanazi could fit nicely into his path towards Mangaung.
Whether the allegations were true or not, the damage against Mkhwanazi has already been done. If someone throws dirt in your face, it takes a long time before people stop thinking of you as that guy and start asking whether you deserved it. In the alleged exchange with the reporter, it seems he rubbed it all over himself.
To see whether the allegations that he misused the crime intelligence fund are accurate or not we’ll have to wait. Just as we thought police factionalism could not get worse, the SAPS made sure to provide a new, almost all-time low.
Still, Mkhwanazi’s renowned for being a tough cop and has already stood up to political pressure in his short time at the helm. Two things are clear from the response to The Star article: a battle is raging within the police and Mkhwanazi’s ready and willing. DM
- Police commissioner Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi: SA’s great balls of fire in Daily Maverick
Photo: Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi at Thursday's press conference (Greg Nicolson/ Daily Maverick)