ANALYSIS

South Africa’s Insecurity Cluster: Anatomy of a cock-up foretold

By Marianne Thamm 25 July 2021

Supporters of former president Jacob Zuma march through the streets during clashes in downtown Johannesburg on 11 July 2021. (Photo: EPA-EFE/Kim Ludbrook)

The head of SAPS Crime Intelligence was absent in the crucial months leading to violence in the wake of Jacob Zuma’s imprisonment.

Marianne Thamm

Between 31 May and 21 June, crucial months in the lead-up to the “attempted insurrection” that tore through KZN and Gauteng after the 8 July incarceration of former president Jacob Zuma, Lieutenant-General Yolisa Mokgabudi, the head of the crucial SAPS Crime Intelligence (CI) Division, was absent from her post.

It is not as if Mokgabudi was oblivious to the festering hotbed of factionalism she was being parachuted into by National Commissioner Khehla Sitole back in February 2021. 

Lieutenant-General Yolisa Mokgabudi. (Photo: Suné Payne)

It was, crucially, an appointment that did not please Police Minister Bheki Cele, who had been patrolling Sitole’s operational domain for some time with regard to appointments and other matters.

By then Sitole had already unlawfully fired the entire top leadership of CI, including its head, Lieutenant-General Peter Jacobs (and his top team), and replaced him with three successive individuals, all of whom faced internal probes. That was between November and December 2020.

After Jacobs was tossed out of office in November, Sitole appointed the controversial Lieutenant-General Feroz Khan as acting head of CI. This was between 22 December 2020 and 14 February 2021. It was another appointment that infuriated Cele, who called for Khan’s instant removal. 

Minister of Police Bheki Cele. (Photo: Jaco Marais)

Mokgabudi had barely straightened the portrait of the police minister in her office when she suddenly left her station on 31 May.

From that date to 21 June, to warm her seat and keep a hand on the secret fund and other matters of national importance, Lieutenant-General Sindile Mfazi appointed Major-General Obed Nemutanzhela, a move confirmed to Daily Maverick by national SA Police Service (SAPS) spokesperson Brigadier Vish Naidoo.

Mokgabudi’s lack of presence at work was not attributed to illness or any family-related matter and Naidoo’s response was simply that Nemutanzhela had been appointed in her “absence”.

Mfazi, who has since succumbed to Covid, was singled out by Jacobs in court documents as one of his senior colleagues who had bullied and intimidated him. 

National police commissioner General Khehla Sitole. (Photo: Gallo Images / City Press / Leon Sadiki)

This, said Jacobs, was a result of his investigation into corrupt members in CI. Jacobs, who said he had been sidelined by Sitole because of this, won his case in the labour court and was reinstated by Sitole, albeit to a position of little significance.

Nemutanzhela was thrice charged departmentally by Jacobs for serious misconduct, but the investigations all appear to have been “parked” in the factional merry-go-round.

Major-General Jeremy Vearey, who has also been dismissed by Sitole for Facebook posts allegedly critical of the SAPS, was also investigating Nemutanzhela.

About a week after Mokgabudi’s return to her office after “being away”, on 29 June, the Constitutional Court found Jacob Zuma guilty of contempt of court and handed down a direct sentence of 15 months’ imprisonment, giving the former president a 4 July deadline to hand himself over.

Then, with Zuma’s 6 July dead-in-the-water bid in the Pietermaritzburg High Court postponed until Friday, 9 July, threats to public safety and stability were already rippling across the horizon on social media platforms and in real life.

Zuma handed himself over shortly before midnight on 8 July and at more or less the same time the fires of insurrection were lit. Infrastructure was targeted, trucks were set alight, and shopping centres looted and razed.

It was, President Cyril Ramapohsa later told the nation, “an attempted insurrection”. His minister of defence, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, at first contradicted this, but later backtracked.

City Press reported at the weekend that Mokgabudi had, on the seventh day of the violence, “begged her members to provide her with intelligence reports”.

In a confidential letter to the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (Natjoints) and seen by City Press, Mokgabudi appears to have suddenly pulled finger after the fact, calling out for intel on “instigators”, planned action, the details of those mobilising and also for operatives to look out for “where organisational affiliation is identified”.

Putting out this fire with gasoline is the ongoing headbutting between Cele and Sitole on the one hand, and Cele and State Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo on the other. 

All are pointing fingers at one another in a Quentin Tarantino-esque showdown in the aftermath of the clearly massive failure in the security cluster. 

None seemingly predicted, anticipated or cooperated to mitigate a violent and supposedly planned insurrection by people loyal to Zuma and seeking his release. 

This does smell of a partial inside job, which the Ramaphosa government is now dealing with.

According to weekend reports, the ANC’s parliamentary caucus is planning to “crack down” on ministers in the security cluster including Dlodlo, Cele and Mapisa-Nqakula. 

Mokgabudi has accused Cele of holding back on signing off on a R500-million budget for a “penniless” CI which is unable — because of years of looting and mismanagement — to serve its function in preventing major threats of this nature.

Mokgabudi said she was treading quicksand without supplies, while Cele demanded a clearing out of the crooks within CI before allowing the free flow of funds.

The minister, the national commissioner and the head of CI all led each other, as well as the rest of us, into the swamp through which we are wading.

Sitole still has much answering to do — most crucially about his role in the CI’s attempted corrupt procurement of a R45-million grabber surveillance device before the ANC’s elective conference at Nasrec in 2017 and which was allegedly to be used in support of Zuma’s faction.

Prior to his appointment to national office, Sitole served as provincial commissioner in ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule’s fiefdom of the Free State.

As this is clearly a vicious political battle between two streams in the governing party, one loyal to Zuma and the other to a return to a constitutional democracy, Ramaphosa would do well to move swiftly to remove the termites.

They have all been named. The courts have pronounced on many.

Those who have been named or who are being investigated should be invited to step aside. 

Several senior SAPS management members have also been implicated in the attempted, unlawful grabber procurement saga, including former acting head and Zuma appointee Lieutenant-General Bhoyi Ngcobo who, according to court documents, “drove” the grift.

Also in the spotlight are Lieutenant-General Francinah Vuma, divisional commissioner: financial management and administration; and Lieutenant-General Lebeoana Tsumane, deputy national commissioner: crime detection.

A court has found these members, as well as Sitole, to have breached their duties. It is a finding they seek to challenge but, so far, it stands. It is for this reason that Cele has called for a commission of inquiry into Sitole’s fitness to hold office.

Sitole has written to Ramaphosa asking him to hold off, saying that he would like to present his version to Parliament of what happened that day in a Pretoria hotel.

In that instance it was Robert McBride, then director of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid), who bust the attempted illegal deal. Sitole, after being alerted by Ipid, called it off.

McBride, of course, now finds himself suspended by Minister Dlodlo, for an allegedly “botched” mission to Mozambique.

But McBride is not a man who acts without receipts. 

Daily Maverick has confirmed that the now soon-to-be-suspended head of foreign intelligence was personally authorised by Dlodlo to engage in South Africa’s Cabo Delgado mission.

The “operational instruction”, signed by Dlodlo in March, authorises the deployment of “necessary capacity” to assist South Africans caught in the conflict in the northern Mozambican province.

Dlodlo has now been accused of acting on false information in her rush to suspend McBride. The saga is not yet at its denouement.

The security cluster’s response to the attack on stability and democracy which South Africa has borne over the past few weeks has been shown to be grossly inadequate and incompetent, a cluster consumed with the ruling party’s interests and not those of the greater population. 

The cluster is a big tree that stands at the centre of democracy and the rule of law. It anchors a contract between the state and the citizens who vote for it. This is a tree that has been half hollowed by the termites of corruption and State Capture. 

But it is a tree that, if it is to be saved, must be pollarded.

For those who blink at “pollard”, wondering what it might mean: “Pollarding tends to make trees live longer by maintaining them in a partially juvenile state and by reducing the weight and windage of the top part of the tree.” — Wikipedia.

It is a pruning system that removes the upper branches of the tree, which then promotes the growth of “a dense head of foliage and branches”. In other words, you chop off the old, dead parts. The parts that are rickety and dangerous.

The professionalisation of the SAPS and the rest of the public service is crucial to this fresh growth. Perhaps that might help to discourage being absent from a key position while the country teeters on the cusp of insurrection.

The status quo cannot remain. 

The high-level review panel into the country’s State Security Agency long ago named those who pose a threat and who choose violence, criminality and instability over the ballot box.

The culling is going to have to be ruthless. DM

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All Comments 16

  • More examples of cadre deployment rather than career professionals being appointed in leadership roles.
    Time for colour blind merit based leadership across all spheres of government. We the people demand that!

  • How does a squirrel cross the road? … hesitantly. ‘Fast acting’ is not one of Ramaphosa’s pro’s.
    In this story of a police force dripping with toxins, corruption and vengeful acts of self-interest I would replace Sitole with McBride, who is twiddling his thumbs again. (Must say, the present CI head requires only a medium-sized cauldron and a broomstick to be cast as the chief witch in a Shakespearean tragedy.)

  • This to me was clearly a coup attempt by Zuma and his loyalists fomented ever since he was sacked as President. The reason was obviously the fact that access to state funds was threatened. Only an absolute idiot would appoint a plumber as minister of health or would choose an accountant to perform open heart surgery. Appointing a primary school teacher to head up SAPS was bound to fail as was just about every ministerial appointment to the current cabinet.

  • The Zuma cabal initiated state capture,and was only stopped in time.Only naive people would believe that there would be no backlash from utter corrupt syndicate orientated zuma cabal,they had infiltrated all spheres,and plan B was initiated.This is where an effective SSA and CI would have been on top of it.Already compromised because the cabal is strategically placed we don’t know how close we came to being down the chute!!!The battle is on and it is going to be a he’ll of a chess game.May goodness prevail and we come through this.

  • Khehla Sithole, Yolisa Mokgabude, Ayanda Dlodo, Bheki Cele and Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula are all incompetent, and unfit for their posts. They should not be “invited to step aside”, they should all be FIRED for incompetence, dereliction of duty and ineptitude. They were all missing whilst the country was burning and our democracy was being seriously threatened. Bring back McBride, Jacobs and Vearey, who actually know what they are doing.

    • There was an interesting article in the Sunday Times by Peter Bruce suggesting that while Cele might not be an Einstein, it is Sithole that one should be concentrating on for removal. I support your final sentence 100%.

  • The deadly intrigue within the “security forces” is absolutely mind spinning- all these incompetents feuding with each other while parts of South Africa literally burn! It all comes down to one irrefutable fact- the wrong people appointed to the task- ie cadre deployment!

  • This was an inside job for sure and why there isn’t more written about the support for JZ within the political and SAPS ranks in KZN which resulted in the slow and sluggard response I cannot understand.

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