South Africa

Days of Zondo

McBride’s quest for change at SAPS goes beyond his personal woes

It’s a street fight out there. The plots, schemes and double games are relentless. Welcome to law enforcement.

Consider one case that serves as a microcosm of the unthinkable level of rot within the South African Police Service: The Independent Police Complaint Directorate, IPID, launches an investigation into allegations of corruption involving then acting national police commissioner, General Khomotso Phahlane.

Phahlane faced allegations that a SAPS service provider had been funding construction of his Sable Hills estate home, that a home sound system had been installed courtesy of another and that a car dealership had generously “sponsored” several cars to his family – not for community work as would be the norm because they were registered in the Phahlane names.

Rightfully, IPID, tasked with investigating misconduct in SAPS picks up the case so what could possibly go wrong? Former IPID head, Robert McBride explains:

  • Someone created a duplicate file of the investigation, then shut both because it’s a duplication.

  • When this “error” is picked up and the investigation is resurrected, someone sent a team from the North West to shack up in a hotel in Pretoria – for a full year – to run a counter investigation into complainants and the IPID team investigating the case.

  • Now arrest some of those IPID guys along with the complainants.

  • Have a Crime Intelligence officer somehow installed at IPID during McBride’s 18-month absence call up one of the investigators – now a criminal suspect as a result of the counter-investigation – and offer him a substantial promotion in exchange for turning against the others. But it’s got to be good because they need help “taking down” McBride too.

  • Don’t worry about claims of nepotism or corruption over this promotion, it’s under control and by the way, don’t bother going into the detective services. Why would anyone want to go there? Chase after real criminals?

These are real-life snippets from McBride’s testimony before the State Capture Commission on Tuesday where he delved into an outrageous scheme to scupper the IPID investigation of Phahlane along with a few others.

The counter investigation resulted in the arrest of the complainant, forensic investigator, Paul O’Sullivan, his colleague, attorney, Sarah Jane Trent whose phone was allegedly taken and sent to “Israel” for access to the content while several IPID investigators then found themselves to be criminally accused.

McBride testified to the details, mentioned the names of key individuals at each turn – the cast is substantial and includes Tlou Kgomo, a Crime Intelligence official who had been sent to IPID to take over as head of investigations during his absence and Mandla Mahlangu, an IPID official who had been offered a promotion to help take down his colleagues.

McBride told the Commission that this was but a taste of what goes down behind the blue curtain of law enforcement in South Africa.

Commission chairman, deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo wants to know what the motive was? “To deter you from fighting corruption, to drive you out, slow you down or soften you?”

Chair I think it includes that but it also includes spending resources on the harassment of IPID.”

It’s the same tactics used to fight criminal syndicates.”

IPID went to court on two occasions to stop the harassment of its investigators, in both instances, SAPS agreed to remove compromised policemen working on the counter investigation.

It didn’t stop, it hasn’t stopped, McBride said.

But there may be other reasons for this.

SAPS runs on a patronage system. “I do favours for my seniors, I get promoted.”

He had testified to a recorded telephone call during which Kgomo and Mahlangu discussed a promotion offer in exchange for Mahlangu helping SAPS with its counter-investigation against his IPID colleagues instead.

Promotions (in SAPS) are linked to corruption but bonds are also formed on various other levels.”

Like that between two guys who survived the same shoot-out, or others who had worked together at a particular unit or who come from the same village.

Unless you have a strong hand on good governance and respect for the Constitution, you will never get things right.”

This Commission will hear the evidence, Justice Zondo will eventually make recommendations, but the status quo will remain, said McBride.

That’s because criminal and corrupt syndicates require senior policemen to leave them to their “business”.

Similarly, he said, there will always be politicians who require “pliant” policemen or women.

As a result, IPID will always be seen as an obstacle, an entity that messes with the veneer of achievement or success that some seek for SAPS under their watch.

It’s not unusual, he says.

SAPS do not like oversight or being investigated or arrested. Fighting back is instinctive and sometimes the casualties of such revenge attacks or investigations happen to be the 200-odd IPID investigators or those solid men and women within SAPS who file complaints with IPID.

While victims of such revenge investigations may feel hurt or take it personally, McBride said it must be understood that for the other side, it’s often driven by survival, by greed or the need for personal advancement.

SAPS has not been re-orientated towards Constitutionalism and respect for the rule of law and this is something that feeds into the patronage system,” McBride said.

For the straight arrows, those normal policemen and women who go to work every day, do their jobs, at some point they wonder, what is it all for when someone else, less qualified or equipped is promoted because they are close to someone higher up.

It demoralised the good people, the ones who actually keep the ship afloat,” McBride said.

But the danger is that at some point, some can be drawn over to the wrong side of the law.

He referred back to the telephone recording between Kgomo and Mahlangu in which Mahlangu hints that he could possibly be interested in a post at detective services.

Kgomo, the transcript shows, then actually tells him that if he did that, he would end up chasing criminals.

What on earth then is he intending for Mahlangu to do?” asked McBride.

The harassment of the IPID officials had reached such an unacceptable level that McBride enquired with his political principle to see if the investigation had been sanctioned at a higher level.

At a certain stage, he felt the attacks on IPID and the abuse of resources within SAPS emanating from that was adding to the erosion of the criminal justice system.

I became worried about national security.”

McBride said he then asked for the DG of the State Security Agency to arrange meetings with other heads of departments, it included Phahlane and former NDPP, Shaun Abrahams.

This mission soon fizzled out, apart from the fact that the heads of department one by one vacated office for a variety of reason, there seemingly was just no appetite for it by others.

McBride’s testimony continues. DM


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