South Africa

Special Report

Caught in the Crossfire: Politicians leverage endemic Cape Flats gangland violence ahead of election

A woman is comforted as she cries during a memorial service in Hanover Park for those who died due in gang violence. 29 August 2018. Photo: Leila Dougan

While Cape Flats residents wake each day to another shootout or the death of yet another child caught in the relentless gangland cross-fire, Police Minister Bheki Cele and SAPS top brass recently reported back to Parliament that the newly established anti-gang unit had accomplished a measure of success. Meanwhile, what was not discussed is the bitter and dangerous feud between SAPS divisions in the region and how this hampers law enforcement capacity.

The question seemed to fade and dissipate in the extreme heat in committee room S35 in the National Council of Provinces wing of the parliamentary campus on 12 February 2019, where the police committee was receiving a report-back from SAPS top brass.

Packed into the tiny, airless venue were Minister of Police Bheki Cele, national commissioner Khehla Sitole, head of police strategic management Major-General Leon Rabie, and various regional leaders including Western Cape provincial commissioner Lieutenant-General Khombinkosi Jula.

The anti-gang unit was launched by President Cyril Ramaphosa in November 2018 after a sustained outcry and petitions from deeply traumatised communities pleading for more police resources in the face of ongoing and endemic gang violence. Also reporting to the committee were members of civil society, Cosatu and the police union Popcru.

The question not answered was asked by two members of the portfolio committee, the ANC’s Leonard Ramatlakane and the DA’s Zakhele Mbhele, and it dropped towards the end of the more than two-hour sitting.

It was in relation to “the MORT Project” — the Major Offences Reaction Team — the establishment of which was announced by Jula in September 2017. MORT will complete its four-month operation at the end of April 2019.

Jula attended the portfolio committee meeting, so was close at hand to reply, but Cele instead supplied a rambling response as to how communities suffer from awful crime, effectively batting the issue into the humid void.

Kombinkosi Elvis Jula is one of former police commissioner Khomotso Phahlane’s appointments in his “shake-up” of the Western Cape’s police structures in 2016. In KwaZulu-Natal, Jula was previously deputy provincial commissioner for operational services, cluster commander in Ulundi and acting cluster commander in Newcastle.

Jula replaced Lieutenant-General Arno Lamoer, who became the only senior SAPS member to be handed an eight-year jail sentence on corruption charges in 2018. Phahlane’s other appointments in the region at the time included Major-General Patrick Mbotho and Major-General Mzwandile Tiyo.

Both Mbotho and Tiyo were later the focus of a successful Labour Court challenge by major-generals Jeremy Vearey and Peter Jacobs, who were both sidelined by the promotions of Mbotho and Tiyo.

The question by Ramatlakane and Mbhele — whether MORT had been set up to rival the anti-gang unit and had caused severe disruption to ordinary policing units in the province in the process — is an urgent and pressing one.

The Western Cape SAPS is riddled with deep divisions. It has been plagued by alleged corruption, members have been implicated in the supply of firearms to local gangsters and have also been accused in open court of protecting known gangsters in an attempt to control Cape Town’s hugely lucrative night-time economy.

To top it all, now national head of Crime Intelligence, Peter Jacobs has written to Sitole recommending that a unit established within Crime Intelligence, and which reported to Jula, be disbanded as it was illegal and was being used to scupper investigations by fellow officers.

Mbotho, who exercised command and oversight of the crucial Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit (FCS), was later transferred to head the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation in North West (Hawks) after having posted a clip of a couple having sex to a SAPS WhatsApp group. He later texted “sorry guys, delete that”.

It was Mbotho who instituted a current disciplinary hearing against the province’s highest-ranking woman officer, Brigadier Sonja Harri, head of the FCS. Harri has been booked off sick for several months due to what she has termed a “sustained campaign marked by incidents of humiliation, belittling, undermining my authority and compromising my dignity and psychological well-being” by Mbotho.

Jula told Harri in September 2018 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.

Over and above this, two unions, the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) and Solidarity, have communicated with Jula about the deep unhappiness of SAPS members from various units — including the Flying Squad, K9 and Public Order Policing — who have been “forced” to work with MORT and who have been threatened with dismissal should they refuse.

Daily Maverick has seen communication by both unions to Jula that while SAPS management might have consulted with the South African Police Union and Popcru, “our members were not consulted”, according to Solidarity.

And while SAPS management undertook at first not to force SAPS members to conduct additional work for MORT, according to Ronel Stander, Solidarity’s public-sector organiser, “specialised units, that have specific functions to perform in terms of their performance agreements, are robbed of their personnel and vehicles and (are) in no position to perform their daily functions, which leaves the general public without any of these specialised services”.

Stander wrote to Jula in February 2019 that:

It also needs to be mentioned that at the start of this operation on Friday 8 February 2019, there was total chaos. Brigadier Manci, who is in charge of this operation, is unaware what to do with these members, no proper guidance is given to members and it is clear that there is a total lack of operational planning regarding this operation.”

Solidarity has pointed out that the transfer of members to MORT is a violation of Safety and Security Sectoral Bargaining Chamber (SSSBC) regulations.

An obvious red flag with regard to MORT is that it is headed by Brigadier Zingisa Manci, wife of the Western Cape deputy police commissioner, Major-General Mpumelelo Manci, to whom she reports. Brigadier Manci is the Nyanga cluster deputy commander.

In January 2019 Brigadier Manci wrote to Colonel Matthews of the provincial supply chain management of the SAPS.

In the memo, Manci wrote:

The Province will deploy 360 members on the following 13 stations as follows: Khayelitsha, Nyanga, Lingelethu, Harare, Delft, Bishop Lavis, Mfuleni, Mitchells Plain, Philippi East, Gugulethu, Cape Town Central, Kraaifontein and Philippi.”

She further requested that 28 vehicles from other units in the province were to be diverted to MORT. These included 20 “double cabs”, three 16-seater buses, three single cabs and three unmarked sedans.

Daily Maverick has determined from several sources (and has evidence in its possession) that SAPS members have been ordered by General Manci to patrol the parking lot of a Nigerian church in Kensington to which Manci belongs.

Western Cape provincial head of communication, marketing and liaison, Brigadier Novela Potelwa, responded to a Daily Maverick inquiry, replying that MORT “is an integrated provincial intervention, comprising specialised provincial units that is targeting specific identified station precincts. Its mandate is to ensure swift response to serious offences reported in the stations that have been identified”.

She said its mandate “is to ensure a swift and appropriate response to major serious offences taking place at the identified areas. The rationale behind this intervention is to saturate the identified precincts with human and physical resources that will match the level of threat at hand. It is also meant to complement existing policing initiatives thereby reducing serious and violent crimes plaguing certain parts of the Western Cape”.

With regard to the abuse of resources by Manci’s unit, Potelwa replied:

The Western Cape views these claims in a serious light and it is on this basis an investigation has been instituted to ascertain the veracity thereof.”

Potelwa said that the command of MORT rotated between brigadiers Manci and Hendrik Jansen and they reported directly to Jula.

Daily Maverick has also seen photographs of SAPS vehicles allegedly returned in a shocking condition to various SAPS units after being deployed to assist with MORT operations.

With regard to this, Potelwa replied:

Vehicles are a critical resource that enables SAPS members to execute their policing duties. The maintenance and upkeep of this critical resource remain the responsibility of users and their supervisors as stipulated in SAPS directives and prescripts.”

IPID is conducting several investigations into Western Cape SAPS members. Allegations include that top leadership has links with the city’s underworld figures.

In other words, it is a hot mess.

Meanwhile, on posters lining lampposts en route to Parliament in Cape Town, the DA, the provincial governing party, has hung posters calling for provincial police service.

Speaking in Cape Town in January, DA leader Mmusi Maimane announced that a government led by the DA would seek to decentralise policing and provide provinces with “real power in crime fighting and community protection”.

We want a police force for our province‚ controlled by our province‚ for the people of our province‚” Maimane said at a rally he addressed in Bonteheuwel, one of several areas plagued for years by gang violence.

Deaths from gang violence and crime in the province are the highest in the country and threaten the social fabric of vulnerable communities who have galvanised themselves in an attempt to make government respond.

Crime statistics for 2018 indicate that 83% of South Africa’s gang-related murders occur in the Western Cape. The province has also seen, according to former Western Cape MEC for Safety and Security, Dan Plato (now mayor), 10-year highs in murder, robbery with aggravating circumstances, robbery at residential premises, the illegal possession of firearms and ammunition and an all-time high in drug-related crime.

There is no doubt that one of the biggest election issues in the Western Cape is gang violence and endemic crime, which could justifiably be described as an ongoing low-grade civil war. DM

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