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Viewfinder report: ‘There were a few things overlooked’

By Robert McBride 10 October 2019

Someone who doesn’t know the workings of IPID and the criminal justice system would be alarmed by Viewfinder’s attempt at a hatchet job against myself and IPID’s hardworking investigators (IPID’s cover-up of police brutality in SA, 7 October 2019). I expect that IPID will answer for itself but I wish to point out a few things which were overlooked.

I was recently reminded, in a radio interview, about the importance of time lines and timing. The transition from the ICD to the IPID was one such time line that I reflected on.

In 2011 the IPID Act was passed and came into effect on 1 April 2012. The new IPID morphed from being part of the Police Service into a nominally separate and independent organisation with its own budget and own set of regulations. And while the IPID Act had some key deficiencies, especially in terms of consolidating independence, it was nevertheless a good start to the constitutional imperative of holding the police to account. However, the new IPID still had the baggage of being mostly staffed by investigators from the police service, with a policing culture and a reluctance to investigate their former colleagues. In any event, the new IPID was not yet a butterfly but a hesitant chrysalis.

It is into this transitional time line that I entered the IPID as an Executive Director. There had been one Executive Director before me and two Acting Executive Directors. The Executive Director, Francois Beukman, had left the IPID a few days after Marikana. He ultimately become the chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Police. The instability caused by the musical chairs of leadership uncertainty further made the IPID officials over-cautious and hesitant. This allowed SAPS police units and the NPA à la Cato Manor and à la “Rendition” to manipulate IPID.

One of my immediate administrative tasks in March 2014 was to review or decide upon cases where officials had been dismissed but had now submitted applications to appeal the previous decisions. One such person was the colourful Amar Maharaj. Under the naïve belief of “everyone deserves a second chance” and also because I, as accounting officer, did not want to continue paying someone’s salary for sitting at home for over a year, I decided to reinstate Maharaj.

Upon his return to work I requested to meet him to brief me as to what gave rise to the department’s decision to dismiss him. During my first meeting with him, the clarity I sought was not forthcoming. But what I did learn about Amar Maharaj was that he had a deep, intense, seething hatred of Matthews Sesoko. It was tangible and real, very unlike later allegations that he would make.

Upon experiencing this wall of hatred, I requested Sesoko to provide some explanation of the rabid animosity towards him. He explained to me that at some stage in 2011, still under ICD, Amar Maharaj had requested Mr Beukman, with whom he was very close, to appoint him to the vacant post of Acting Head of Corporate Services. For some reason, much to Maharaj’s deep disappointment, this was not conceded to. The level-headed Sesoko was appointed to this position.

This development resulted in an erosion of the Beukman-Maharaj close alliance, leaks to the media, tranches of disinformation, Maharaj’s disciplinary and ultimately his dismissal. Sesoko now became the confidante of Mr Beukman. Just over five years later, Amar Maharaj has again been dismissed and again the disinformation has been let loose.

Not to say that it stopped at any stage. He once rushed into my office, out of breath, “…The water is contaminated…, the water is contaminated…!” After recovering from the whirlwind, I was made to understand that Amar Maharaj was under the firm belief that IPID’s City Forum Building’s water was contaminated. In fact, he had gone into the water tanks and had taken photos of the “contamination”, which he showed me. He had also informed the entire staff (on every one of the 10 floors) that the water was contaminated; there was panic at City Forum Building.

I, not being an expert on contaminated water, was forced to call in the Tshwane Municipality’s Health Section to take samples, analyse them and report to us on the extent of the chemical warfare visited upon our poor souls. Needless to say, Tshwane Health Services couldn’t find any contamination in the water.

In my three and a half years at IPID (the other 18 months were stolen by agents of State Capture), there were other wild, weird and colourful experiences that Amar entertained us with. But that would be for another day and would require careful behavioural research by some very wise people.

Indeed, it is this very same Amar Maharaj (now dismissed again) who is the deep throat in the “great exposé” of Daneel Knoetze.

Amar Maharaj is not an investigator, never has been and therefore has no investigative experience. In addition, he does not understand IPID’s investigative processes and systems. A former ICD/IPID Executive Director once arranged a special session with investigators to explain to Mr Maharaj what “unsubstantiated” means.

Anyway, by August 2014, I had reinstated Maharaj and included him as part of the teams to visit provinces with a view to identifying problems and canvassing how to improve service delivery and standards. As a result of the joint and collective findings of the teams, a number of systemic weaknesses were identified including limitations on our ICT case management programme. Certain functions could not be activated.

As a result of this and as a strategic management intervention, these process and systemic problems were to be addressed by establishing two units. First, the Integrity Strengthening Unit, which was meant to monitor the integrity of investigations and the integrity of the information contained in the files/dockets. The Integrity Strengthening Unit would be placed outside of the Investigations Branch to ensure a level of independence for the unit.

Second, a Vetting Unit was established to ensure that the people who enter IPID would be beyond reproach. The Vetting Unit would work very closely with the State Security Agency.

In addition, Executive Director Directive number 12 of 2014, which forbade any manipulation of statistics and also warned about the disciplinary and criminal consequences for transgressors. And on my return in October 2016, I instructed the Integrity Strengthening Unit to conduct an extensive investigation into any instance of statistical manipulation. By the time I had left, the final report had not been finalised.

So the interventions that arose were intended to achieve a systems improvement solution. The identification of the weakness was made by a collective of IPID management (and included Maharaj). It was not Maharaj’s inspection visits. Similarly, the interventions that were proposed and implemented emerged from a strategic session of the senior management of IPID.

Now to the specific allegation against two officials (presumably as a sample of widespread irregularities), Van Der Sandt and Anthony. There was no irregularity here – they were doing the administrative work that is required of them by the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), that is to update the Case Management System (CMS). The SOP does not prescribe a set time for updating the CMS.

Regardless of the colourfulness of Maharaj’s past escapades, when an allegation is made, it needs to be checked. As such, I decided to check the recent allegations and met with Mr Sesoko.

Sesoko’s explanation is as follows: “The allegations against senior officials completing a number of cases in a day or overnight is again based on a misunderstanding of IPID’s investigative processes by Mr Maharaj.”

He continues: “The true facts are that investigators go out to conduct investigations, speak to witnesses, obtain exhibits, toxicology reports etc. Once the investigation is complete, the administrative part of the work needs to be done before updating it on the electronic management system. The supervisors or senior managers ensure that all the work is done and that all relevant evidence is included in the docket. Once satisfied, he will then update all such cases/dockets that have been given to him by the investigators, on the system. Hence, you will find it appears that one person ‘completed’ numerous of cases on one day.”

What is not said is that section 179 of the Constitution puts the responsibility to prosecute and obtain convictions on the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). The story ignores thousands of recommendations sent to the NPA which are yet to be decided on and thousands of cases which are on the court rolls for trial. I’m not sure whether or not the more than 1,200 disciplinary convictions were left out deliberately to paint a sombre picture. A fair assessment of IPID’s impact would include all convictions, both criminal and misconduct, as well as other factors such as dismissals. For instance, in 2017/18, there were 99 criminal convictions and 234 disciplinary convictions, 311 SAPS members were convicted in disciplinary matters, of which 36 were dismissed from the SAPS. If the same analysis was made for the other years, the true picture begins to emerge.

The other factor ignored by Mr Knoetze is that the IPID carried over the ICD’s workload and backlog. The bulk of these cases were misconduct such as failure to perform, gross discourtesy and sleeping on duty etc. None of these are police brutality cases. It is misleading to lump them all under the label of police brutality. I’m not at all saying there were no problems in IPID during my tenure, but if you’re going to mislead, at least get the facts right. And please do it elegantly. DM

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