South Africa

ANALYSIS

Cop vs Cop: Rival Western Cape police units at each other’s throats

Police minister Bheki Cele addresses the audience during the official opening of a new police station in Samora Machel, Nyanga Cluster on December 11, 2018 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Netwerk 24 / Adrian de Kock)

It’s not just gangs battling it out in the Western Cape. The SAPS in that province is consumed by a power struggle between the recently established Anti-Gang Unit and a rival unit, the Major Offences Reaction Team, accused of siphoning off vehicles and resources from other units, undermining crime-fighting capacity in the violence-torn region.

Police Commissioner Khehla Sitole, as well as Minister of Police Bheki Cele,  have been made aware of the debilitating feud between the Major Offences Reaction Team (Mort), led by Brigadier Zingisa Manci, and the Anti-Gang Unit (AGU), headed by Major-General Andre Lincoln, but appear unable to resolve the urgent matter, which has been ongoing for more than seven months.

On 12 June 2019, six Anti-Gang Unit members were wounded in an early-morning shoot-out during a “botched raid” at the Samora Machel informal settlement in Cape Town.

In the aftermath, an angry Lincoln wrote to Provincial Commissioner Khombinkosi Jula, asking for the removal of two high-ranking members of the AGU whom he accused of initiating the raid without his knowledge and without an operational plan.

The raid had been carried out a day after Cele met with Samora Machel residents. Lincoln said it had been planned “by Colonel Ngubane and Colonel Mkabele” on the same day Cele met the residents.

Provincial police spokesperson Novela Potelwa later announced that Major- General Oswald Reddy had been appointed by Major-General Mpumelelo Manci, currently acting provincial commissioner, to investigate “all issues pertaining to the attack of AGU members in Samora Machel… The investigation will also include recent allegations about some SAPS members that surfaced in media reports. It is requested that the investigation be allowed space to reach finality.”

Mort’s commanding officer, Brigadier Zingisa Manci is the wife of Major-General Mpumelelo Manci, to whom she reports. When she is not commanding Mort, Brigadier Manci is the Nyanga cluster deputy commander.

Daily Maverick has seen video evidence that SAPS members were earlier in 2019 diverted from crime-fighting duties to patrol the parking lot of a Nigerian church in Kensington to which the Mancis belong. We forwarded this information to the provincial head office which undertook to investigate the matter. The matter is still “under investigation”.

The Western Cape provincial head of communication, marketing and liaison, Brigadier Novela Potelwa, responded to a Daily Maverick inquiry earlier in 2019, stating that Mort “is an integrated provincial intervention, comprising specialised provincial units targeting specific identified station precincts. Its mandate is to ensure a swift response to serious offences reported in the stations that have been identified.”

Mort, which was established by Western Cape Provincial Commissioner Khombinkosi Jula in September 2017, has been the cause of much unhappiness among SAPS members from specialised units including the Flying Squad, the K9 Unit and Public Order Policing, who have been “forced” to work with Mort and who have been threatened with dismissal for refusing to do so.

Mort’s operation was meant to run until April 2019 but appears to have overshot its sell-by-date and continues to operate in spite of the deep unhappiness it has caused among SAPS members.

Police unions Popcru and Solidarity have both informed Jula of their members’ concerns, but with little response.

On 21 June, Solidarity released a report which found that the Flying Squad in the region could not operate at full capacity as members had been absorbed into other units.

Solidarity’s Ronel Stander compiled the report after meeting SAPS members.

Solidarity acts on behalf of a number of our members stationed at the Flying Squad and we state that the unit is not operating at full capacity because 52 of its members have been absorbed into other units. Thirty-two are deployed at the Provincial Reaction Team while 20 were called up by the Major Offences Reaction Team (Mort),” said Stander.

Stander said members of Mort worked from Thursday to Sundays from 4pm to 2am while Monday to Wednesday were set aside as “rest days”.

This means the other stations in the province, where there is serious crime at any given time, don’t have sufficient members on duty. With the shortage of staff and the condition of the vehicles at the Flying Squad, it operates on a skeleton staff.”

She said the K9 Unit had been instructed to surrender six members to Mort “without their police dogs”.

On 24 June, activist Colin Arendse wrote to Sitole and Cele reminding both that it was President Cyril Ramaphosa who had launched the AGU in Hanover Park and that Cele himself had attended the launch.

Arendse wrote to Sitole: It has been brought to my attention that the AGU has been operating without a budget since its inception. This is because you (and those operating under your command) have not allocated a Persap [Personnel and Salary Sub System] number to the AGU.”

He said it was “bizarre” that Jula and Manci had then launched “an illegal counter-strategy to government’s Anti-Gang Unit which they labelled Operation Mort (Major Offences Reaction Team).”

This, said Arendse, had removed 287 police members and 125 vehicles from stations across the Western Cape.

The salient fact of the matter is, General, that Mort is a duplication of police work already being done by the Anti-Gang Unit and the other specialised units and stations mentioned above.”

He added that Mort had been operating with a budget of R1.1-million a month despite Sitole not having signed off an “Organisational Design and Work Study” and challenged the national commissioner to do so by 25 June.

Jula, who was appointed by former acting national commissioner Khomotso Phahlane, has been accused of running a parallel unit in the province to consolidate his power.

The release of the 2017/18 crime statistics in September 2018 showed that the Western Cape had the highest number of murder investigations in South Africa.

The province had 808 gang-related murders during that financial year. There had also been a “staggering” increase of 31% in murders in the Kraaifontein area alone.

Meanwhile, the Red Cross Children’s Hospital reported that 17 children had been admitted for gunshot wounds since January, while 250 more had been treated for injuries sustained through violence, neglect or abuse.

The origin of the impasse in the Western Cape can be traced back to 2016 when then acting National Commissioner, Khomotso Phahlane made several appointments, sidelining then-Deputy Provincial Commissioner Crime Detection, Major-General Jeremy Vearey as well as then-Western Cape Crime Intelligence head, Major-General Peter Jacobs.

Since then, several high-ranking officers have been hounded including one of the highest-ranking female officers in the province, Brigadier Sonja Harri, head of the Family, Child and Sexual Offences Unit.

On 25 September 2018 Jula informed Harri that charges of misconduct, instituted in December 2016 by Major-General Patrick Mbotho (another Phahlane appointment) would be “re-enrolled”. Mbotho was Harri’s reporting officer.

Mbotho was later “redeployed” to head up the Hawks in North West province after posting a sexually explicit video to a SAPS WhatsApp group.

Phahlane was suspended in 2017 and faces several criminal charges of fraud and corruption.

The year before, 2016, was the year of peak State Capture when then illegally-appointed Hawks boss, Mthandazo Ntlemeza, replaced eight out of nine Hawks heads as well as appointing and catapulting at least 60 loyalists through the ranks.

The effect of the capture of law enforcement by criminal or self-serving elements is felt every day by ordinary South Africans in the unsafe cities, suburbs and streets in which we live.

It will require determined political will to clean up the mess and begin to protect the public from predators in the system. Does anyone have the cojones? DM

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