ANALYSIS

Persistent high-level corruption at SAPS robs South Africans of right to safety in a violent society

By Marianne Thamm 4 August 2020
Caption
Former acting national police commissioner Khomotso Phahlane. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Sandile Ndlovu)

At least R56-million was illegally siphoned off the police budget in just one matter involving eight high-ranking SAPS members who were arrested in a pre-dawn raid in June 2020. Corruption in SAPS and other law enforcement agencies deprives South Africans of their right to safety and security.

While former acting National Police Commissioner Khomotso Phahlane might be challenging his dismissal from the SAPS, this brand of top-level endemic corruption in the country’s law enforcement agencies has cost South African society dearly.

From the hundreds of children felled by stray bullets in gang-controlled regions in the Western Cape, to the lack of internet access by the Serial and Electronic Crimes Investigations Unit, to the SAPS member who is shot four times with a stolen police weapon while the SAPS itself runs low on ammunition, corruption in the SAPS is a threat to the health and well-being of South African society.

One would be hard-pressed to name a single high-profile bust by the much-trumpeted Anti-Gang Unit of the leaders of any of the numerous gangs which are known to control the criminal underworld as well as the taxi industry.

The capture and crippling of the SAPS as well as the DPCI (Hawks) for political and personal venal impulses has a direct impact on the capacity of this country’s law enforcement agencies not only to investigate major corruption cases at SAA, Prasa and Eskom, but to do the most basic police work.

The boneyards of the thousands of dead ordinary South Africans who perish violently each year and the annual high crime statistics are testimony to this.

In Phahlane’s case alone, involving a “blue lights tender”, the amount lost to the state totals R84-million, while he allegedly bought himself several large screen TVs and built up a fleet of vehicles for his family.

In October 2015 amaBhunganes Sally Evans revealed that Phahlane, before his appointment as National Commissioner and as head of SAPS Forensic Services, had headed SAPS Personnel Services and was also the Secretary for the National Appointment Panel for SAPS.

It was in this capacity that Phahlane had allegedly signed off the irregular appointments including that of one of former disgraced Crime Intelligence (CI) head Richard Mdluli’s protégés, Nkosana “Killer” Ximba.

Phahlane had also, according to amaBhungane, testified on behalf of Solly Lazarus against SAPS in Lazarus’ labour court challenge of his suspension in 2012. Lazarus was CFO of CI and has been implicated in the plunder of the division’s secret service account.

amaBhunganes Sally Evans wrote:

“The affidavit deposed in the North Gauteng High Court by IPID investigator Mandlakayise Mahlangu last week reads like a B-grade crime novel, replete with expensive cars, bling homes with designer finishes, bags of cash in car boots and death threats to investigators and others, and allegedly traced back to SAPS members under Phahlane’s overall command. One threat on November 2016 was traced back to an SAPS member working at OR Tambo International Airport and another, on February 19 this year, to a handset that received its reception from SAPS Intelligence headquarters.”

The corruption in SAPS can be traced back all the way to 1994 and the post-apartheid reconfiguration of the country’s police service. Former members, who understood how the system worked, quickly went into “business” with the SAPS.

In December 2017 police raided the homes of Forensic Data Analysts (FDA) director Keith Keating and Phahlane, both implicated in allegations of fraud, theft, corruption, racketeering and money laundering.

The raid took place about a week after dramatic revelations to a parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Accounts hearing of wide-scale alleged corruption and procurement irregularities in the South African Information and Technology Agency (SITA) and the SAPS, amounting to about R6.1-billion.

R6.1-billion.

During that raid IPID confirmed that investigators also found unused SAPS radio frequency tags worth R374-million hidden at a construction site.

R374-million.

In 2018 Keating simply “switched off” a critical SAPS IT system because payments to his company had been suspended.

Daily Maverick wrote at the time:

“Earlier, on 5 April 2018, at midnight, malicious software Keating had ‘injected’ into the SAPS PCEM (Property Control and Exhibit Management) system rendered it inoperable. Keating also disabled the SAPS Firearm Permit System (FPS) as well as the Analytical Capabilities and Visualisation System.

Three days later, after a mad scramble, SAPS and SITA (the State Information and Technology Agency), acting on the advice of senior counsel, managed to switch the system back on. It has been humming with the threat of being cut off ever since.

Considering the purchases SAPS made from Keating and his related companies, one would expect SAPS to be one of the best-equipped services in the world in possession of the latest high-tech crime-fighting technology.

Alas… Forensic labs remain overwhelmed while ordinary members lack the basics – ammunition, cellphones, access to the internet, and vehicles.

Meanwhile, over at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, testimony has been given, including by former KZN Hawks Head, Johan Booysen, of several implicated top SAPS brass who continue to occupy top positions.

When Daily Maverick first revealed that Colonel WS “Welcome” Mhlongo – implicated by former NPA head Mzolisi Nxasana and KwaZulu-Natal Hawks head Johan Booysen in serious corruption – had been appointed to the position of acting commander of the police’s organised crime branch in KwaZulu-Natal, Mhlongo lodged a charge “in his personal capacity” relating to our reporting.

Mhlongo was due to testify at the Zondo Commission this week but bailed, saying he had Covid-19, as did Brigadier Nyameko Xaba of the Crimes Against the State Unit.

The DPCI’s Major-General Zinhle Mnonopi also failed to turn up at the commission, saying she was suffering from “depression”. Mnonopi was accused by former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas of trying to make his corruption complaint against Ajay Gupta disappear.

(Mnonopi has been cleared in an “internal probe” and is back at work.)

Jonas told the Zondo Commission in 2019 that Mnonopi had referred to his case as a “DA matter” and had told him she wanted to “kill” it. This after Jonas had revealed that Ajay Gupta had offered him a Cabinet post and a R600-million bribe.

Mnonopi filed an affidavit with the commission disputing Jonas’s claims. She accused him of defeating the ends of justice by failing to report the matter on time.

Meanwhile, SAPS has not yet responded to Daily Maverick’s query as to whether Colonel Navin Madhoe, also implicated in enabling R61-million worth of corrupt deals linked to KZN businessman Thoshan Panday in 2010, has just been appointed as acting head of Supply Chain Management in KZN.

In the past, SAPS has consistently replied that these matters are “internal”, seemingly ignoring that the SAPS are accountable as public servants whose salaries are paid by taxpayers.

The depriving of the SAPS of a budget which could have been invested in training members, using the guidelines from the Farlam Commission of Inquiry into Marikana, has had disastrous consequences for policing.

The commission highlighted poor leadership from SAPS as the main factor that led to the police opening fire on protesting miners, killing 34 on 16 August 2012.

The much-quoted National Development Plan 2030 called for a “modernised, transformed and efficient criminal justice system and a professional and highly skilled police service” but, like so many of its visions, this has come to naught.

Some of those who have milked the SAPS over the years are living their best lives; they own properties, ranches overseas, fleets of expensive cars and can afford private security and expensive lawyers to protect their ill-gotten gains.

Meanwhile, there are many dedicated and law-abiding SAPS and Hawks members who are expected to do their jobs in appalling circumstances while some of their leaders shoot them in the kneecaps (metaphorically speaking).

It is those SAPS members who must be celebrated and rewarded for speaking out but instead, many, like Booysen for example, find themselves out of work while those implicated remain in their positions.

National Police Commissioner Khehla Sitole is to be applauded for his stance on combating corruption in the SAPS and for the arrests which have taken place over the past few months of 2020.

However, Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, can wear his hats and belch as much rhetoric as his head can hold, but the truth of life for the majority in South Africa is one that is potentially short, sharp and brutal.

“My sister didn’t cry, she didn’t scream. She didn’t even say eina. Her face was full of blood,” Meagan Andrews said in describing the death of her three-year-old sister, Merilyn, killed by a stray bullet while sitting with her parents outside her home in Eerste River, Cape Town, on 28 July 2020. DM

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