South Africa

Deep Dive

Sitole vs Jacobs: what lies behind the top-level rupture at the SAPS?

National Police Commissioner General Khehla Sitole. (Photos: Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Felix Dlangamandla) / EPA-EFE / Nic Bothma / Pawel Czerwinski / Unsplash)

Jacobs has charged that the real reason for his sidelining is 'the number of disciplinary cases I instituted against Senior Crime Intelligence Officials for corruption, fraud and theft of the Secret Services Account'.

At the heart of the life-and-death struggle playing out in the SAPS top leadership is a meeting that took place at the Courtyard Hotel in Arcadia, Pretoria, on 13 December 2017, two days before the ANC’s 54th, down-to-the-wire elective conference at Nasrec.

It was a contest that was to split the ANC as Cyril Ramaphosa scraped in with a flimsy 179-vote margin against Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma in an atmosphere rank with treachery and betrayal.

Crime Intelligence at the time was in the hands of Zuma acolyte and loyalist, acting head Brigadier Bhoyi Ngcobo. Ngcobo, a former member of Zuma’s VIP Protection, was appointed to the key position by the then president in August 2017, four months before Nasrec.

Before this, the division was headed by the now-convicted criminal Richard Mdluli, who for years enjoyed protection from bent officials embedded in the law enforcement cluster, including the NPA, the DPCI, SARS and the State Security Agency.

Crime Intelligence features as a major tributary in the State Capture project through its unaccountable access to public funds from the Secret Service Account (SSA). The “slush fund” has been used for criminal and highly questionable activities for decades.

Crime Intelligence was led until Monday, 30 November 2020 by Lieutenant-General Peter Jacobs, when he was suspended by National Commissioner Khehla Sitole on charges including alleged procurement irregularities and bringing the SAPS into disrepute.

Sitole moves to suspend Jacobs amid allegations of threats and workplace bullying

Jacobs, with his appointment to head Crime Intelligence in April 2018 by President Ramaphosa, was handed the keys to a seething vipers’ den of players seeking to retain control over vast secret resources. 

Even before Jacobs’ appointment, Western Cape Crime Intelligence head, Major General Mzwandile Tiyo, lodged an internal complaint against him, but this came to naught.

Jacobs had previously occupied Tiyo’s job until he was sidelined in 2016 by acting National Commissioner Khomotso Phahlane, who appointed Tiyo to the position. In 2020 Phahlane would find himself dismissed from the SAPS and facing criminal charges.

Phahlane was appointed by Zuma in 2015 and in 2016 set about a major restructuring of the SAPS.

Western Cape provincial deputy commissioner for crime detection, Major General Jeremy Vearey, was also shafted by Phahlane and replaced with Major General Patrick Mbotho. 

Mbotho was later transferred out of the province after sending an explicit video to an SAPS WhatsApp group.

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When former Western Cape Provincial Commissioner Arno Lamoer was handed in 2018 an eight-year prison sentence on charges of corruption, Phahlane replaced him with Lieutenant-General Khombinkosi Jula. 

Jula was implicated by Jacobs in a December 2018 report to his superiors alleging rogue elements in the Western Cape Division were working to disrupt investigations into underworld figures. Tiyo was named in the report, too.

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The provincial commissioner was accused by Jacobs of running a parallel unit, the Major Offences Reaction Team (MORT), staffed almost exclusively with members from KwaZulu-Natal. Jula has since been transferred to KwaZulu-Natal. 

Jacobs and Vearey fought Phahlane and Jula in the labour court and eventually both won in August 2017.

Anti-Gang Unit section head, Lieutenant-Colonel Charl Kinnear, was investigating the links between corrupt cops and organised crime networks when he was assassinated in September 2020. 

Jacobs and Vearey worked closely with Kinnear, alongside AGU head Major General Andre Lincoln.

In a war now that appears to have spilt online, a new platform, African Mirror on Sunday, 6 December 2020 published an “investigation” by editor Jovial Rantao pinning Kinnear’s death firmly at Jacobs’ doorstep. 

African Mirror accused Jacobs of being “negligent” and of a “dereliction of duty” in failing to protect Kinnear. The platform also claimed that the Hawks had tipped off Jacobs earlier about the threat to Kinnear’s life but that Jacobs had sat on it.

However, the truth is that back in December 2018 already, everyone in the top SAPS leadership knew about the threats to Kinnear’s life and those of other Western Cape Anti-Gang Unit members. 

Kinnear himself penned a complaint, which he sent to Jacobs, who sent it on to the national commissioner and other top SAPS leadership.

When the contents of Kinnear’s complaint became public in March 2019, Brigadier Vish Naidoo told amaBhungane’s Caryn Dolley that National Commissioner Sitole had viewed Kinnear’s charges in a “very serious light”.

As a result, two senior officers were assigned to examine the charges and countercharges at national level. This 18 months BEFORE Kinnear was murdered. 

Sitole, as national commissioner, had been told by both Kinnear and Jacobs that the detective’s life was at risk so the African Mirror conclusion that Jacobs failed to act when he was tipped off by the Hawks is rendered improbable.

In fact a January 2020 record detailing discussions between Provincial Commissioner Lieutenant-General, Yolisa Matakata, and AGU head, Major General Andre Lincoln, provides a written record of “the current situation with regard to Lieutenant Colonel Kinnear”.

Charl Kinnear’s nine months of hell detailed in SAPS report into threats on his life 

In Lincoln’s feedback sessions with Matakata – which took place before Kinnear’s murder – details emerged of attempts on 15 November 2019 to set up a meeting with acting Provincial Commissioner Sindile Mfazi about the threats to lives of AGU members, including Kinnear’s.

This had come to naught.

The email trail shows that the Provincial Commissioner’s Office acknowledged receipt of the meeting request. The meeting was scheduled for 22 November 2019 but was cancelled.

The AGU attempt to meet with the provincial commissioner was never picked up again. 

Sitole has had to tread a fine line since his appointment by Zuma in 2017 and after being captured on film at the secret pre-Nasrec meeting in Pretoria the same year.

What was discussed there has been the subject of an ongoing battle with IPID and its former executive director, Robert McBride, on the one flank, and Sitole on the other.

During his tenure, McBride fought hard to declassify documents relating to the attempted procurement by Crime Intelligence of a grabber (a surveillance device) at the hugely inflated price of R45-million and which was the alleged purpose of the Pretoria meeting. 

A grabber sells for R7-million on the open market and McBride alleged the bloated purchase was initiated to launder public funds in order to swing votes at the ANC’s Nasrec elective conference.

McBride had argued that the matter was a simple one of procurement and not one of “national security” – as Sitole has insisted – and that documents should be declassified and handed to IPID investigators. 

Sitole would prefer the documents remain off-bounds and has never formally explained his presence at the meeting. Sitole stopped payment for the grabber deal after IPID had been tipped off and in turn had informed Sitole.

While McBride might have been sent packing in 2019 by hostile ANC parliamentary police committee members spurred on by Minister of Police Bheki Cele, what took place or was discussed at the Courtyard that night in 2017 remains of critical national interest in 2020.

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CCTV footage captured Sitole as well as other participants, including Ngcobo, arriving to meet with Durban businessman and SAPS supplier Inbanathan Kistiah, owner of Brainwave Projects 1323, trading as I-View Integrated Systems.

I-View, at the time, was under business rescue and not listed as an SAPS supplier on the government’s database.

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Also at the meeting were then minister of police Fikile Mbalula’s adviser, Bo Mbindwane, Deputy National Commissioner of Crime Detection Lieutenant-General Lebeoana Tsumane and Deputy National Commissioner of Management Advisory Services Major General Francinah Vuma.

In 2018 Sitole and his fellow implicated SAPS officers brought an application in the high court challenging an IPID instruction for the surrender of information related to the grabber procurement.

McBride counter-applied, telling the court the documents had been classified to cover up a potential crime.

McBride’s assertion that the purchase of the grabber was an attempt to launder funds from the secret Crime Intelligence fund to buy votes for a slate at the ANC’s elective conference is explosive.

It is an accusation which, if proved solid, would make the CR17 funding “scandal” look like a solitary collector shaking a can of loose change.

Apart from the Nasrec alleged money laundering scam, Crime Intelligence, led then by Richard Mduli, is alleged also to have deployed rogue agents to pay off slates at the ANC’s Mangaung elective conference in 2012. Here contender Kgalema Motlanthe stood no chance against Jacob Zuma.

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Any deep dive behind the scenes of these and perhaps other elective conferences might expose or implicate senior ANC leaders in widescale corruption and election fraud.

The solidifying and shoring up of friends in the law enforcement cluster by Zuma and his supporters created a fertile environment for the likes of the Gupta family and every other bent businessperson drawn to the rot like flies around a collapsed pit latrine.

And they all needed someone higher up in the system on speed-dial.

Essentially the ANC would stand accused of stealing public funds to rig party elections. It would expose it as a criminal network posing as a political party.

At the time of the meeting at the Courtyard Hotel, Sitole had been in the hot seat for only a few months, having been appointed on 22 November 2017 by Zuma. 

So too Ngcobo, whom Zuma had shifted to the key position in August that same year shortly after triumphantly surviving a parliamentary vote of no confidence.

Ngcobo was previously head of VIP Protection Services and one of Zuma’s most trusted bodyguards. 

According to the IPID investigation, the bid to divert R45-million from the CI secret fund had allegedly been at the insistence of Ngcobo.

McBride bashed down every door possible seeking the documents. He pleaded with SCOPA, which in turn requested Sitole to hand over the classified files.

In January 2019 IPID applied for subpoenas for Sitole, Mbindwane, Ngcobo, Vuma and Tsumane to explain their presence at the meeting.

Sitole in turn approached the high court to compel the magistrate to release documents she had relied on to issue the subpoenas.

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The Pretoria High Court ordered that this be done. In their response in court papers, Sitole, his fellow implicated top cops and Mbindwane continued to maintain the matter fell under “national security”.

The court papers contain correspondence between IPID, the IGI, Cele and legal representatives of those implicated. Writing to Cele in April 2018, Dintwe opined that Mbindwane’s presence at the Pretoria meeting “raised suspicions”.

Dintwe told Cele he was of the opinion that the documents should not be classified as they did not threaten “national security”.

But the SAPS and Sitole have stubbornly sought to keep the procurement secret.

Another potentially fraudulent SAPS procurement IPID investigated was an irregular R33-million tender that was sealed between 20 December 2016 and 31 March 2017. 

In that instance, CI procured from I-View an encrypting system, Daedalus, for R21-million and which was capable of blocking legal surveillance.

McBride, in his court papers, claimed that Daedalus had been procured “specifically to block IPID’s surveillance of the cellphone communications between former National Commissioner Lieutenant-General [Khomotso] Phahlane and a team of SAPS detectives from the North West (led by Major General Jan Mabula) which General Phahlane appointed to counter and obstruct IPID’s investigation against him for alleged fraud and corruption”.

With regard to the pre-Nasrec meeting, Dintwe wrote to Cele opining that “charges of defeating the ends of justice may be considered for any person who is an impediment to the investigation which is under way, and driven by IPID”.

Cele had, in the meantime, requested an opinion from the IGI, saying that his thoughts would be dependent on Dintwe’s view “regarding the possible impact on National Security by the intended declassification of documents in question”.

Dintwe had said that the SAPS was compelled to declassify the files.

But Dintwe now finds himself accused by Jacobs, in the contestation of his suspension by Sitole, of overstepping his mandate. 

This after documents from the IG’s office were allegedly leaked to the Sunday World newspaper implicating Jacobs in alleged PPE procurement irregularities, which he denies.

Jacobs said Dintwe had transgressed the Intelligence Services Oversight Act by sending a report to Sitole instead of Minister of Police Bheki Cele or the president as the law set out.

In doing so, the alleged report had been leaked and used in a campaign to discredit him.

Jacobs has charged that the real reason for his sidelining is “the number of disciplinary cases I instituted against Senior Crime Intelligence Officials for corruption, fraud and theft of the Secret Services Account”.

Sitole has shown admirable leadership as part of Ramaphosa’s anti-graft ticket and has seen at least 16 senior officers, including his own deputy Lieutenant-General Bonang Mgwenya, charged with fraud and corruption.

But most of slog work in the investigations into all of the SAPS top brass who find themselves facing the law was done in life-threatening and career-limiting conditions by IPID investigators under McBride’s leadership.

With renewed vigour and cooperation between the NPA and Hermione Cronje’s Independent Directorate with the Special Anti-Corruption Team (SACTT), the SAPS is experiencing a prolonged root canal without Novocaine.

And soon a few stubborn and decaying political roots might be exposed, which is why transparency at this point is vital and should be demanded by those appointed to oversee the Secret Service Account and prevent its abuse.

It would be in the interests of some in the governing party for the documents, if there are any, in the grabber procurement matter to be kept sealed and away from scrutiny by those authorised in law to do so.

Caught in the middle of this relentless crossfire is Minister of Police Bheki Cele, who while once on the same side as McBride later encouraged his axing. 

And now here we are. DM

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All Comments 7

  • One is left wondering as to what’s happening at IPID these days. They’ve been awfully quiet since McBride’s departure. Then again, I suppose that was the point.

  • Instead of our police and intelligence service (there’s a contradiction in terms) fighting genuine crime e.g. drug lords, extortion, copper theft that is crippling our railway transport, trucks being set on fire etc., they are engaged in politics, corruption and malfeasance. Whilst all the blame can’t be laid at Zuma’s door, there is no doubt that it really got a massive turbo boost and became totally out of control under his 9 wasted years. His shenanigans, deceit and dishonesty knew no bounds. Besides the wasteland and bankruptcy that he and his obnoxious criminal cronies have left, SA is paying a very heavy price indeed for the lack of proper policing.

  • Thank you for that clear report.
    Usually we have to read long reports detailing all the events but with no interpretation & comment. It requires several re-reads before one can form an opinion.
    Reading a report such as this where we are openly guided makes it much easier to understand – even when we disagree with the guidance & come to an opposing opinion.

  • Half way down the text the following is written:
    Essentially the ANC would stand accused of stealing public funds to rig party elections. It would expose it as a criminal network posing as a political party.