South Africa

SONJA HARRI CLAIMS HARRASSMENT

Sexual offences unit head tells Cele of bullying and humiliation by senior officer

Sexual offences unit head tells Cele of bullying and humiliation by senior officer
Brigadier Sonja Harri (Facebook)

The Western Cape’s highest ranking female police officer, Brigadier Sonja Harri, head of the Family, Child and Sexual Offences Unit, has written in desperation to Minister of Police Bheki Cele asking for an intervention in what she says is a continuing campaign of sustained harassment initiated by her former boss, Major-General Patrick Mbotho.

Major-General Mbotho, who was suspended after posting a pornographic video to a SAPS WhatsApp group, has since has been “redeployed” as head of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation in the troubled North West province.

Harri was told on 25 September 2018 by Provincial Commissioner Kombinkosi Jula that charges of misconduct, instituted in December 2016 by Mbotho, would be “re-enrolled”. Since then Harri has attempted to access documents that relate to the proposed disciplinary procedure — including a medical report — but these have not been forthcoming.

In the letter sent in January (which Daily Maverick has seen) to Cele, National Commissioner Khehla Sitole and Western Cape Provincial Commissioner Kombinkosi Jula, Harri described Mbotho’s conduct when he was her superior as “a sustained campaign marked by incidents of humiliation, belittling, undermining my authority and compromising my dignity and psychological wellbeing”.

Harri, in her 30-year career with SAPS, has been instrumental in solving several high profile sexual crimes, including the brutal murder of Anene Booysen in 2013.

Daily Maverick has offered Cele, Sitole and Jula the right to reply to Harri’s allegations with regard to Mbotho’s conduct. However, Sergeant Noloyiso Rwexana, of the SAPS Western Cape Media Office, said that the issue “is between employer and employee” and that the SAPS “is not prepared to discuss this in the public domain”.

Colonel Mbotho referred all queries to SAPS spokespersons, adding: “What I do best is to fight crime.”

Mbotho’s actions, Harri wrote to Cele, had caused her “great psychological and emotional trauma”, so much so that she had been booked off work since April 2017. Harri was due to return to her position on 2 July 2018.

Harri added that it had become “clear to me that I was caught in the cross-fire of a broader campaign being waged between senior officers in the police in the Western Cape” and that she was “deemed to be aligned to a certain ‘camp’ and victimised because of my perceived affiliation to that camp”.

I was left with no institutional recourse or support and ultimately succumbed to the abusive treatment I was subjected to,” said Harri to Cele.

In 2015, former acting national police Commissioner Khomotso Phahlane made several appointments in the SAPS Western Cape top structure, sidelining then Deputy Provincial Commissioner Crime Detection, Major-General Jeremy Veary as well as then Western Cape Crime Intelligence head, Major-General Peter Jacobs.

Harri was redeployed at the time from the Western Cape Provincial Head: Crime Investigation Services to Provincial Head of the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences (FCS) unit.

Veary and Jacobs successfully challenged their demotions by Phahlane in the Labour Court. Jacobs has subsequently been appointed national head of Crime Intelligence.

Phahlane’s appointments at the time included Major-General Mbotho as Deputy Provincial Commissioner: Crime Detection (replacing Veary), Provincial Commissioner Jula, as well as Major-General Mzwandile Tiyo (who replaced Jacobs).

Jula has since been fingered by Jacobs in a report to Cele as heading a “rogue” Crime Intelligence unit in the Western Cape which Jacobs said “should be immediately disbanded” and that its legality “should be criminally investigated”. The rogue unit, Jacobs alleged, has been used to target fellow officers.

Tiyo and Jula were both also named in the bail application of Cape underworld figure Nafiz Modack where the court heard that Mbotho had met Modack twice in the city.

News24 journalists Caryn Dolley and Adriaan Basson also personally witnessed Mbotho and Modack at the meeting which was also attended by Northern Cape provincial police commissioner, Risimati Shivuri.

Harri explained that unlike Veary and Jacobs, she had not challenged her redeployment.

I did not object to my redeployment as others did to theirs, although I experienced it as arbitrary, unjustified, given that my performance in the position could not be faulted.”

She noted that she had enjoyed a long career in SAPS and that her record reflected this.

My performance, objectively assessed, until I was charged, was nothing short of exemplary.”

Her life changed when Veary had been illegally removed from his position by Phahlane in September 2016.

From the outset, General Mbotho adopted a hostile attitude towards me and my work. He treated me in an arbitrary, disrespectful and downright abusive manner, which culminated in what I regard as the spurious charges brought against me.”

These were, she said, that she had failed to attend a meeting Mbotho had called with no more than 10 minutes’ notice in December 2016, that she had allegedly failed to provide documentation for assessments and that she had allegedly failed to amend her performance contract to add “supervision” of the Bishop Lavis detective branch to her list of responsibilities.

Harri, in her letter to Cele, said that Mbotho had directed Major-General Johan Brand to investigate the charges against her with Major-General Greg Goss as the chair of the disciplinary committee. Goss, however, who had been implicated in the alleged sexual harassment of a colleague, had refused to recuse himself.

Harri said that she was not unwilling to face a disciplinary hearing but urged Cele to convene an external, independent and representative panel to “investigate, make findings and appropriate recommendations” regarding the alleged charges of misconduct.

Writing to Brigadier Chris Nkwanyana in October 2018, Harri said that as soon as she had been provided with “all the necessary details relating to the allegations against me as well as with copies of any medical records relating to my state of health which has informed the decisions taken regarding the re-institution of disciplinary proceedings against me, I will be in a position to respond to the offer [by Jula] to finalise my matters with a written warning”.

However, she told Cele that what was of greater concern was not the disciplinary hearing she faced but the conduct of powerful male leaders in the province.

Of greater concern to me than the harm caused to me personally is the fact that I, as one of the most senior ranking women in the police in the Western Cape and head of the FCS Unit in the province, could be subjected to such abuse without any institutional support, how much more hostile and unsupportive an environment SAPS Western Cape must be for women occupying more junior positions within the organisation.”

Harri has told SAPS top brass and the minister that should she not receive a reply she would approach the Labour Court to take on review the decision by Jula to proceed with the disciplinary.

Mbotho’s redeployment to North West, home turf of former ANC Chair Supra Mahumapelo, has raised concerns and led to activist Colin Arendse writing to Cele.

Despite this heinous crime [the posting of the sexually explicit video] perpetrated by General Mbotho, I have since also been informed that he was appointed as the head of the Hawks in the North West today, 18 Dec. 2018 – despite him not having the requisite security clearance,” Arendse wrote to Cele.

Arendse called for Mbotho’s appointment to be reversed and for him to be placed “on administrative duties at head office in Pretoria until all outstanding matters and investigations against General Mbotho have been finalised”. DM

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