The focus may well have been on Phahlane’s defence of his innocence, but there were broader issues at play, according to the police minister. “Much of our socio-economic footprint is an upshot of our colonial apartheid history,” he said. “You have a huge foreign interest still in controlling the criminal justice system, the police being one of those… we are told directly and by proxy.”
At stake are definitions of who is poor, black in general and African in particular, and what are freedom and good governance, said Nhleko: “All of this is (by) our erstwhile murderers and heartless exploiters… They have to defend their ill-gotten wealth. That’s their central objective.”
In this context, according to the police minister, slowing down transformation was key, as was lack of trust in police and institutions of government. “Police infighting is a staged phenomenon,” Nhleko said.
The lecture, triggered by EFF MP Phillip Mhlongo’s comments on “factionalism” and “being set up against each other”, provided insight into thinking in the security cluster that includes not only the State Security Agency (SSA) and defence force, but also Home Affairs since last year. Nhleko’s commentary on “foreign interests” working against government echo those made previously by State Security Minister David Mahlobo, who in a briefing on his 2016 Budget speech also included racism as a “security issue”.
At the time, Mahlobo said community protests were often infiltrated by those wanting to “undermine the authority of the state”, that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) included those who were “very funny” and were “just security agents that are being used for covert operations”, while #FeesMustFall protesters “are given money by NGOs”.
Nhleko’s comments also come after the ANC lekgotla which not only called for an end to private guards securing National Key Points, but also said that “damage to state property must be categorised as a serious offence punishable by a long-term sentence” and that all state infrastructure must be protected by establishing a “government security agency”.
The Constitution in Section 199(1) says South Africa’s security services are the police, defence force and intelligence services.
But what was actually before the police committee was an independent forensic report on claims of mismanagement and fraud brought by police union Popcru against Phahlane in his former role as forensics divisional manager. Commissioned in March 2013, some nine months after Popcru formally complained, the forensic report was finalised in April 2014 with a price tag of R733,500 and submitted to SAPS boss General Riah Phiyega. In April 2015 the report was given to Phahlane and Popcru for comment. In December 2016, Phahlane submitted the report to the parliamentary police committee after having hosted a media briefing.
On Thursday it was the turn of MPs. The union was not present, nor was the Independent Police Investigation Directorate (Ipid), only expected before the police committee next month.
Ipid is investigating possible corruption counts against Phahlane over his multimillion rand home, several vehicles, an R80,000 sound system, and defeating the ends of justice. This is the latest twist in the law enforcement environment, which has seen the departure, before the end of contract of several senior police, including former Hawks head Anwa Dramat, various court battles as senior police go up against each other amid a series of investigations and counter-investigations and widely criticised appointments of politically-pliant senior SAPS officers.
But on Thursday Phahlane dismissed any claims against him as a media campaign rehashing old allegations. “It has been an onslaught since 2009. The same allegations over and over again. It is tiring.”
And so Brigadier Lindie Kleinhans from Phahlane’s office briefed MPs on the independent forensic audit, which dismissed many of the claims, and those that it did not had been dealt with by the SAPS whose review found processes had indeed been complied with. “Thus the matter is regarded as finalised,” was the mantra.
“There have been repeated attempts to undermine the integrity of the acting national commissioner and to harm his reputation. It is the same allegations over and over and over. The allegations are not new,” Kleynhans said.
Likewise, her boss put it all down to an orchestrated campaign by “so-called whistle-blowers” who were themselves facing disciplinary action for misconduct.
“This matter has been rehashed by certain individuals for their own purposes. The allegations were investigated and when those who made them were approached they were unable to substantiate them,” said Phahlane.
And while he did not finger “foreign interests” fermenting police infighting as “a staged phenomenon”, as had his political boss, Phahlane’s account of the police service he heads painted a far from rosy picture. DM
Photo: Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko and the Acting National Commissioner Lieutenant-General Khomotso Phahlane of South African Police Service (SAPS) briefs media regarding countrywide safer festive season operations at Tshedimosetso House in Pretoria, 12 Jan 2016. (Photo: GCIS)
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