Hawks, spooks, rendition and racism: A guide to the messy Anwa Dramat saga
The saga involving suspended Hawks boss Anwa Dramat, placed on leave last December, continues. On Thursday, police minister Nkosinathi Nhleko asked Parliament to remove Dramat, claiming his involvement in the illegal rendition of Zimbabweans warranted such a step – despite the fact that a police report may contradict this. Opposition parties aren’t buying Nhleko’s appeal to human rights. If you haven’t been keeping up, REBECCA DAVIS summarises the messy affair for you.
The Hawks: The Hawks – officially known as the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation – is a specialist crime-fighting body within the SAPS mandated to investigate organised crime, economic crime, corruption and other serious crime. It was established in 2009 to replace its predecessor, the Scorpions, a unit disbanded in a controversial manner later that was later ruled as unconstitutional.
Anwa Dramat: Dramat has been the head of the Hawks since its establishment. He was the former Western Cape deputy police commissioner, who made his name tackling Cape gang violence. A former Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) operative, Dramat was sentenced to 12 years on Robben Island, though he did not serve his full term after being granted indemnity. At the time of his appointment, erstwhile justice minister Jeff Radebe described him as a man well known “both in the struggle for freedom and the struggle against crime”.
Nkosinathi Nhleko: Nhleko has been police minister since 2014. A known ally of President Jacob Zuma, he supported Schabir Shaik’s application for medical parole in his capacity as KwaZulu-Natal’s commissioner of correctional services. After joining Parliament as an MP from 1994 to 2005, Nhleko served as director general for the department of labour before being appointed as police minister.
In October 2011, the Sunday Times ran an expose with the headline, “Sent to die: Shocking fate of suspects in alleged rendition deal with Zim cops”.
The story reported that Zimbabweans living in South Africa who were suspected of crimes in their home country were being subjected to “rendition” – the illegal kidnapping and transfer of a prisoner from one country to another. The newspaper claimed it had knowledge of at least three Zimbabweans who had been subjected to rendition and then murdered by police after arriving back in Zimbabwe. Officers reporting to Dramat allegedly led the rendition operation. Dramat confirmed that the individuals identified by the Sunday Times had been returned to Zimbabwe, but he said they had been properly “deported”.
The suspension of Dramat
Three years later, in October 2014, it was reported that Dramat, together with Gauteng Hawks head Major General Shadrack Sibiya, was being investigated by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) for criminal charges against him relating to the illegal renditions. At the time, a furious Sibiya claimed the investigation was part of a smear campaign by crime intelligence against the Hawks leaders for having initiated an investigation into crime intelligence head Richard Mdluli, allegedly another close ally of Zuma’s.
Two days before Christmas 2014, it was announced that the decision had been taken by Nhleko to suspend Dramat pending the results of Ipid’s investigation into his involvement in rendition. The decision was doubly surprising because it was subsequently reported that Ipid head Robert McBride had confirmed that both Sibiya and Dramat were “cleared of wrongdoing”.
The court case
The Helen Suzman Foundation took to the courts to challenge the suspension of Dramat and the appointment of Major-General Berning Ntlemeza to replace him in an acting capacity. North Gauteng High Court Judge Bill Prinsloo ruled last week that both decisions should be set aside, and that the suspension of Dramat was unconstitutional and illegal as it was beyond Nhleko’s power to take this action.
The police minister has filed an application to appeal the decision, which spokesperson Musa Zondi said means Dramat remains suspended until the matter is concluded.
The appeal to Parliament
On Thursday, Nhleko appeared before Parliament’s police committee to explain himself. Nhleko remained adamant that his course of action was both correct and justified, and appealed to Parliament to remove Dramat.
In a letter to committee chair Francois Beukman, an African National Congress (ANC) MP, Nhleko repeated the claim that illegal renditions occurred “with Dramat’s knowledge and approval”. Nhleko said sworn witness statements supported the case against Dramat.
At the committee meeting, Nhleko came out with guns blazing, accusing those who claimed the suspension was motivated by political reasons of racism. Had the renditions involved white people, Nhleko said, the response would have been very different.
“I am convinced that because the lives involved and the lives at stake are those of black people, therefore, all that the colonial forces can do is prop up the debate, and for it to be about the institutional arrangements of the Hawks,” Nhleko told the committee. “Had the lives involved been those of white people, the debate and headlines would have been about human rights.”
Nhleko requested that the portfolio committee “initiate a parliamentary process for the removal of the head of the [Hawks] on grounds of misconduct and that he is not fit and proper to hold that office”.
Committee chair Beukman said that the committee would meet again on Friday after having considered Nhleko’s letter.
Opposition parties were not swayed by Nhleko’s arguments, with the FF+’s Pieter Groenewald particularly incensed by the minister’s accusations of racism.
In a statement after the committee meeting, Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow police minister Dianne Kohler Barnard urged the committee “to resist being bullied by the police minister into instituting a baseless and malicious probe into Anwar Dramat’s fitness to be the Hawks boss”. She suggested that Nhleko’s appeal to Parliament at this point, after having initially circumvented Parliament to suspend Dramat, was aimed at “forcing [Parliament] to legitimise his illegal conduct”.
Nhleko’s actions were, she said, “the latest brazen attempt by the ANC in government to bend independent institutions towards protecting Number 1 and those close to him”.
ANC MPs hold a majority in the parliamentary police committee, so it is likely that a resolution approving the start of an investigation into Dramat will be adopted on Friday, despite the opposition of MPs from other political parties. If this is the case, Dramat’s suspension would finally be legally justifiable – though the legitimacy of its grounds will undoubtedly continue to be strenuously questioned. DM
Photo: Anwa Dramat
Turmoil at the Hawks: A birds eye view of the legalities, by Pierre de Vos in Daily Maverick