Counterinvestigations. Countersurveillance. And a “legal war”. MPs on Thursday were told that’s what the police watchdog, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid), faces in various investigations into senior police officials, including acting national police commissioner Lieutenant-General Khomotso Phahlane. Meanwhile, the Ipid investigations into police killings of 34 Marikana miners in August 2012 remains stalled due to a lack of funding and co-operation as the SAPS long ago cleared 87 of its own of any wrongdoing. By MARIANNE MERTEN.
There was a brief moment when acting national police commissioner Lieutenant-General Khomotso Phahlane, whose luxury home and cars are the subject of an Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) probe, was in the same parliamentary committee room as the police watchdog’s boss, Robert McBride. Awkward or not, both came to account to MPs on their budgets, performance plans and related issues.
While for the previous two days Phahlane had told the parliamentary police committee of the achievements and future plans of the SAPS – he justified detection rate targets of 14% for property crimes and 37% for serious crimes as realistic – a very different picture emerged during the briefing by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.
McBride told MPs that Ipid investigators are being targeted for doing their jobs and their witnesses are interfered with. Much of this he put at the door of Phahlane. “The acting head of SAPS sits with a big litigation budget. He sits with crime intelligence. He sits with a unit in the North West, which counterinvestigates us and interferes with our witnesses.”
Phahlane, who has denied there were any reasons for an investigation, has turned to the courts to set aside the Ipid search warrant of his home. It has cost Ipid in excess of R900,000 to defend the legal action. “That is how unfair it is… We are having a legal war started against us,” said McBride. “Understand what we have to deal with.”
Law enforcement for years has been in turmoil amid a revolving door of leadership and a series of suspensions that typically end up in court. Amid widespread claims of politically pliant appointments, not only are suspensions challenged, but so are appointments. Most recently the courts ruled as invalid the appointment of Lieutenant-General Mthandazo Ntlemeza, the ex-Hawks head who is legally challenging his removal.
Tensions have been rife between the SAPS and Hawks and the police ministry and Ipid in an intricate chess game. Whereas the previous police minister Nkosinathi Nhleko twice, most recently in November 2016, appealed to the police committee to deal with his grievances against McBride, who had successfully challenged his 2015 suspension by the minister, the recent appointment of Fikile Mbalula as Police Minister not only has led to last month’s removal of Ntlemeza, but also a thaw in the at best chilly relationship with the Ipid boss. “It’s not frosty any more, its improved tremendously … I look forward to it getting hot,” McBride replied to MPs.
Within this volatile law enforcement context, or because of the unwillingness of senior management to take action, Ipid is receiving an unprecedented number of complaints.
“We don’t have resources like General Phahlane, an intelligence service. Most of our sources of corruption and murder and mayhem come from the police…. Policemen want to do the right thing,” McBride told MPs. “So, we have made an impact.
“We are the best practice. The world is looking to us,” McBride replied to a question from MPs on best practices. “The fact that we have been underfunded, the fact that we have resistance from the police, it is about poor management by police and wish not to ruin relations with those they attended college.”
But battles remain, including a financial crunch that has led to the freezing of several posts, and the reduction of training initiatives. Lack of funding also meant a delay in finalising the Ipid probes into the August 2012 police killing of 34 Marikana miners in line with the Farlam commission of inquiry. As in March when both SAPS and Ipid briefed the police committee on progress, McBride raised concerns that in the meantime police cleared 87 of its own of wrongdoing. “They take a behind-the-blue-curtain decision. I’ll sort it out for you even if there are 34 dead bodies,” he said.
Or as Ipid investigations head Matthews Sesoko put it: “State power is coming out now that senior officers are investigated.”
There are other issues, such as torture by police. MPs were told that while there was a 2012 decision to put together all cases by a specific unit, this has yet to happen. Ipid has followed up in writing with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) about this.
“They had disciplinaries (disciplinary proceedings), those torturers, and they were found not guilty. In post-apartheid South Africa…” said McBride, adding there was also a 2006 case when a person in handcuffs was shot dead, but police cleared the shooting as justified because the person tried to escape.
The Ipid 2014/15 annual report showed an increase in police torture cases, rapes by police both on and off duty and that more people died in police custody or because of police action than just a year previously.
That year there were 145 torture complaints against police, almost double the 78 recorded for the 2013/14 financial year. A total of 244 deaths in police custody were recorded then, up from 234 the previous year, as 423 South Africans died as a result of action by police.
Thursday’s Ipid briefing raised concerns among MPs, and a broader discussion is expected next week. DM
Photo: Robert McBride is seen at the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg on Thursday, 30 September 2010 during an appeal by the Citizen newspaper against an award of damages and defamation granted to him. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA
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