South Africa

The minister, the watchdog and the hidden hand: Why Nhleko is taking on McBride

By Ranjeni Munusamy 16 March 2015

A few months ago, there was talk in security circles that head of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) Robert McBride was being considered to replace National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega. This was after reports of a fallout between Phiyega and Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko. But now McBride has joined the list of senior officials on the warpath with Nhleko in a battle that long ceased to make sense to anyone observing it. Can the matter of the Zimbabwean renditions really be behind Nhleko’s resolute campaign to get rid of both the Hawks and Ipid or is there something – or someone – else behind it? By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

Is Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko acting on his own volition or is he being pushed from higher up? If so, who is doing the pushing? These are the questions that come to mind when you consider the bull-in-a-china shop campaign the minister has embarked on to get rid of people heading independent institutions under his portfolio.

The latest in the firing line is Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) head Robert McBride who, over the past few days, has he found himself in a fight to save his job and, as he claims, to protect the independence of the police watchdog.

Nhleko wrote to McBride last week asking him to make representations as to why he should not be suspended as the head of Ipid. Nhleko is alleging misconduct on McBride’s part relating to the Ipid investigation into the illegal rendition of Zimbabwean nationals in 2010, allegedly involving Hawks head Anwa Dramat and Gauteng head Shadrack Sibiya. McBride applied for an urgent interdict to stop his suspension that was heard in the North Gauteng High Court on Friday. Judge Hans Fabricius said he would make an order on the matter on Wednesday.

In his affidavit, McBride makes a number of claims that reveal an acrimonious battle playing out over the Ipid investigation report, the draft version of which implicates Dramat and Sibiya in the illegal rendition. This is the version Nhleko relied on to attempt to suspend the two. But McBride says the provisional findings and recommendations “were found to be unsustainable on the evidence and were, accordingly, not included in the final investigation report”.

Without any incriminating evidence in the Ipid report, Nhleko’s attempts to nail Dramat and Sibiya will fall flat. Court action undertaken by the Helen Suzman Foundation and Sibiya have prevented him from firing them. He has asked the police parliamentary portfolio committee to fire Dramat, but without evidence of wrongdoing in the report, there is no basis for Parliament to act against the Hawks boss.

This explains Nhleko’s desperation to discredit and get rid of McBride so that he can use the preliminary report again. But McBride will not go without a fight.

“The minister’s intention to suspend me is a clear stratagem to undermine or suppress the Ipid investigation report which does not implicate Dramat and Sibiya, and which undermines the draft and leaked report on which the minister has relied to justify his suspension of them. This is a blatant abuse of power that fundamentally threatens the independence of Ipid,” McBride says in his affidavit.

“The urgent prevention of any further steps being taken to suspend me unlawfully is necessary not only to protect my rights, but also to preserve the independence and effective functioning of Ipid and to prevent further unlawful ministerial interference without delay,” he says further.

“Should it be effected, my suspension as the executive director of Ipid would likely have immediate deleterious consequences for the effective functioning of Ipid. This is especially so in the current political climate and given the extent of ministerial interference in the independent institutions in the criminal justice sector.”

McBride goes on to argue in his affidavit that Nhleko does not have the power to suspend him, and that his decision to suspend him is “vitiated by ulterior purpose or improper motive and bad faith”. He also says this decision is “irrational and unreasonable”.

Nhleko has now commissioned law firm Werksmans Attorneys to investigate the reports on the renditions matter, which McBride claims undermines the independence and integrity of Ipid. He says the terms of reference include an investigation into the NPA’s (National Prosecuting Authority) processes of considering the Ipid’s final report. “An investigation of ongoing NPA processes falls outside the minister’s powers and is interfering with an ongoing criminal investigation.”

One of Nhleko’s allegations of misconduct against McBride is that the Ipid head requested that the Parliamentary portfolio committee on police convene an urgent meeting so that he can explain to them the existence of the two reports. Nhleko claims this was “designed to undermine [the minister’s] authority and oversight responsibility” and puts his own commissioned investigation “in jeopardy”.

McBride says in his affidavit that it is “extraordinary” that Nhleko felt that reporting on the activities of Ipid to Parliament would undermine his authority. “I would have expected that, in the circumstances, the minister would welcome my willingness to account to Parliament and to clear up any misconceptions and concerns that exist in relation to Ipid’s conduct,” McBride says.

The chairman of the police portfolio committee Francois Beukman has indicated that they have declined McBride’s request to appear before Parliament. One of the reasons for this is a pending appeal in the North Gauteng High Court undertaken by the acting Hawks head Berning Ntlemeza, who is seeking to overturn a ruling declaring Sibiya’s suspension unlawful.

Ntlemeza says in his affidavit that contrary to the findings by the judge who found that Sibiya had been cleared by the Ipid report, the “legitimate” Ipid report that was signed by the head of the investigation team, Innocent Khuba, found there was a prima facie case for Sibiya and Dramat to answer. He says the high ranking officials in the Hawks “are capable of using that position to interfere with the investigation and temper [sic] with the evidentiary material, and intimidate witnesses”.

Ntlemeza claims junior officials have informed him that they “fear for their lives and would require protection” once the disciplinary inquiry is commenced against Sibiya. He also claims one of the main witnesses, Ndanduleni Richard Madilonga, who was stationed at the Beit Bridge border gate when the renditions occurred and directly implicated Dramat and Sibiya, “has since died under mysterious circumstances”. Madilonga “suddenly fell ill for a very short duration” after he was selected to attend a course in the Western Cape, Ntlemeza states in his affidavit.

It is astounding that such a high-ranking police official at the rank of major general would allege foul play in the death of a police officer in court papers without producing any evidence, such as a post mortem report. But this is the magnitude of this extraordinary battle to hound out Dramat and Sibiya from the Hawks by whatever means.

It would appear that McBride’s standing in the way of this process also led to him being accused of illegally removing an information storage device from Sibiya’s office in order to tamper with evidence. It is in his reply to this allegation that McBride mentions the possible source of this entire battle: the suspended Police Crime Intelligence head Richard Mdluli.

McBride says he received a call from Sibiya, who heads the Gauteng division of the Hawks, on 10 February 2015, informing him that two colonels from Crime Intelligence were in his office wanting to seize a “data 6 fax line” allegedly belonging to Mdluli. “Sibiya contacted me in this regard because he was under suspicion that a crime was about to be committed,” McBride says.

He says he went to the Hawks offices in Gauteng the next day. “I removed the said data line 6 in terms of my powers provided for in Section 29(2) [of the Ipid Act] and signed for its removal.” Two days later, McBride was summoned to Nhleko’s office in Cape Town to discuss the device and how it came to be in his possession. He says in his affidavit that the minister “reprimanded me over what he referred to as ‘the raid’, in front of a third person who, at that stage was unknown to me and who, at my insistence, was subsequently introduced to me as General Ntlemeza.”

Oh, to have been a fly on that wall, watching someone with the background of Robert McBride getting dressed down by a junior minister. What infuriated Nhleko so much that he would rail against McBride over the device? Is it possibly because it belonged to Mdluli, who despite his protracted suspension seems to have an inordinate hold over high-powered figures in government?

Let’s not forget the genesis of Dramat and Sibiya’s problems. It did not start with Dramat requesting the docket on the Nkandla security upgrades, as has been claimed. It started with Dramat and Sibiya investigating Mdluli for various charges, including murder, fraud and corruption.

Sibiya was initially in charge of the investigation against Mdluli. Dramat then brought in a Hawks team from the Western Cape to pursue the probe. Dramat fought off political pressure to drop the investigation and when he refused, Ipid began investigating him and Sibiya in relation to the Zimbabwean renditions matter.

Nhleko says the reason he is pursuing the renditions matter is because it impacts on human rights. When you consider all the violations of human riots at the hands of the police, including police brutality and the massacre of mineworkers, it is curious that allegations of illegal renditions are being pursued to the extent that the minister has attempted to overstep his powers repeatedly and threaten the independence of the Hawks and Ipid.

Last week the NPA announced that it was reinstating charges against Mdluli. It remains to be seen whether the National Director of Public Prosecutions Mxolisi Nxasana will survive in his position long enough to pursue the prosecution.

Mdluli has shown time and time again that he has an inordinate ability to survive and enjoys political protection that is difficult to explain. He has no affiliation to the ANC and joined the police in 1979 working for the Apartheid government. What he does have is an unexplained hold on somebody, somewhere, very high up in the state. What that is exactly remains a mystery, but if Dramat, Sibiya and McBride want to establish why they are in the firing line, perhaps that is what they should look for. DM

Photo: Lt. General Richard Mdluli Then Head of Crime Intelligence at the Parliamentary portfolio committee on police strategic plan and budget session with SAPS management. PHOTO: Danielle Karallis (18-04-2012)



Fudging, obfuscation and misdirection hobble the route to the nitty-gritty of expropriation

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"Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me 'old' when I would never call him 'short and fat?' Oh well I try so hard to be his friend - and maybe someday that will happen!" ~ Donald J Trump