SAPS IN CRISIS ANALYSIS
To serve and endanger: Corrupt cops are South Africa’s greatest security threat
When police officers fear for their lives, claim certain colleagues are targeting them and colluding with criminals, and sometimes even arming assassins, where does this leave us? The short answer — in a tightening spiral where our security is constantly eroded and where those who try to expose the rot from within put their very lives at risk.
Something has to give. Again.
This “something” first manifested itself in the form of Lt-Col Charl Kinnear’s assassination outside his Cape Town home in September 2020.
There were overt, publicised threats to the former anti-gang unit officer’s life before he was murdered, and his killing exposed something fundamentally rotten in the South African Police Service (SAPS).
The shots fired into Kinnear at point-blank range finally shook cop bosses out of their lethargic stupor. We were told that heads would roll. That police would not rest until the killers had been brought to book.
These were the words of Minister of Police Bheki Cele and National Police Commissioner Khehla Sitole — two men who seem to spend more time facing off against each other, and, in Sitole’s case, also against other senior cops.
Sitole’s future now hangs in the balance after a recent court ruling made his position virtually untenable. Only President Ramaphosa has the power to get rid of him.
Serious divisions in the ranks of the police showed up some time ago.
At the time of his murder, one of the cases Kinnear was investigating involved police officers in Gauteng allegedly fraudulently creating gun licences for gangsters in the Western Cape.
By then, Kinnear had alerted police bosses that certain cops in the Western Cape, with links to Crime Intelligence, were actively working against him and his colleagues, and in some instances colluding with underworld figures.
His assassination should have marked an abrupt turning point in the police — it should have sparked an immediate and intense crackdown on corruption.
Instead, more officers have claimed that fellow cops are setting them up because of what they have uncovered within police ranks.
Police recently struggled to get a grip on the attempted insurrection, which seemed to suggest that the instigators viewed the country’s police and intelligence structures as ineffective, hollowed out during Jacob Zuma’s presidency.
Some officers are under official protection due to threats made against them in connection with their work — threats from gangsters as well as from within the SAPS itself. Mistrust in the ranks is rife.
General Jeremy Vearey, the former head of detectives in the Western Cape, controversially fired in May over Facebook posts, has twice turned to the courts in a desperate attempt to force police bosses to provide him with proper security.
Vearey is convinced that his life is in danger because of investigations he has undertaken, including into cops selling guns to gangsters.
He is meant to give evidence in a “guns-to-gangs” court case, but has pointed out that his denial of security protection could seem like an indirect attempt to prevent him from testifying.
Vearey has described the removal of his security as “a callous attempt to endanger my life further”.
There are clear parallels between Vearey’s situation and that in which murdered officer Charl Kinnear found himself.
However, in this world of smoke and mirrors, there is a constant undercurrent of rumours and claims that it is Vearey and officers aligned to him, possibly including Kinnear, who are, in fact, the corrupt ones and who are deflecting attention from themselves by accusing colleagues of wrongdoing.
Let us examine a more concrete connection between these officers. One critical link is investigations they conducted into whether cops are funnelling guns to gangsters.
The Project Impi saga is well known by now, but it is worth taking another look to help understand what’s going on.
In June 2016, Vearey, acting as Western Cape detective head, and Lt-Gen Peter Jacobs, who was heading the province’s Crime Intelligence division at the time, were suddenly transferred from their positions.
This came as they were heading Project Impi — an extensive investigation into gun smuggling, including how cops were getting firearms to gangsters.
More than 250 children have been reported shot with cop-smuggled firearms.
Vearey and Jacobs argued that their transfers derailed Project Impi, which also had international offshoots.
The entire saga was riddled with sinister incidents (it is not clear if all were linked to Project Impi).
In November 2016, attorney Noorudien Hassan, who had been involved in a guns-to-gangs court case stemming from Project Impi, was murdered in Cape Town.
Another red flag appeared in August 2017, when this journalist received a death threat via SMS for reporting on what Project Impi had exposed.
Meanwhile, in March 2018, after struggling to get cop bosses to reverse his transfer out of his provincial position, Peter Jacobs was promoted to national Crime Intelligence boss.
A few months later, at the end of October 2018, advocate Pete Mihalik, who had represented suspects in guns-to-gangs cases, was assassinated in Cape Town.
The Anti-Gang Unit, threats and an assassination
The month after Mihalik’s murder — November 2018 — the Anti-Gang Unit, headed by Major-General Andre Lincoln, was launched in the Western Cape.
As a member of this unit, Kinnear was involved in trying to untangle underworld crimes and allegations of cop involvement in effectively arming criminals.
Lincoln, in a recent affidavit in a court matter, explained: “We were conducting investigations and operations in Gauteng and the Western Cape provinces.
“The investigations and operations formed part of a process relating to the contravention of the Firearms Control Act, fraud and corruption. The suspects included junior as well as senior members of SAPS and persons associated with gangs (also referred to as underworld figures) in the Western Cape.”
In December 2018, Kinnear complained to his bosses about a group of cops in the Western Cape using state resources to target him and a few of his colleagues, including Lincoln and Vearey.
Peter Jacobs, as national Crime Intelligence head, labelled this group a rogue unit.
Threats subsequently emerged against several officers, including Kinnear and Lincoln, as well as Vearey. Word was that four men from Bosnia had been recruited to kill them.
Amid all this, Kinnear was assassinated in September 2020.
Jacobs, in a recent affidavit used in a labour court matter, said the rogue unit Kinnear had complained about had never been disbanded, and that “the inaction on the part of SAPS management, and his subsequent mistrust of the SAPS and Crime Intelligence, left him exposed and vulnerable”.
The firing line — police who expose cop crimes
Towards the end of 2020, Jacobs was suspended as the country’s Crime Intelligence head due to what he considered a “meritless allegation” that personal protective equipment was irregularly procured via the secret service account.
Jacobs subsequently said he had made several protected disclosures, including about the unlawful “rogue intelligence unit” in the Western Cape.
“I also instituted internal investigations about wide-scale corruption within Crime Intelligence, amounting to millions of Rands, involving current and former senior officers within Crime Intelligence and the SAPS.”
Instead of rooting out the bad apples in Crime Intelligence, Jacobs was transferred in March 2021 and deployed to head the police’s inspectorate. Jacobs’ enemies may well have considered that a cleansing of Crime Intelligence.
It appeared that, for the second time in five years, he was being sidelined while in the middle of critical investigations into allegedly corrupt cops.
But wait, there’s more.
Jacobs and Lincoln both faced disciplinary action over the lack of security provided to Kinnear before his assassination.
Of this, Jacobs said: “I believe that I am being persecuted by the SAPS because of my protected disclosures.”
Lincoln had a similar stance: “I believe that I am being persecuted by the SAPS because I have made disclosures about the inaction of my seniors.”
Of his battle over being fired and his struggle to get protection, Vearey said: “There is an orchestrated stratagem to get rid of me, Lieutenant-General Peter Jacobs and Major-General Lincoln for exposing corruption in the police and our diligence to eradicate gang activities.”
South Africa’s biggest security threat — corrupt cops
Former Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) head Robert McBride once told Parliament: “The biggest threat to national security is corruption in the SAPS.”
Referring to how Ipid investigators scrutinising a top cop for corruption instead became the focus of police themselves, he told the State Capture commission that Crime Intelligence was used to illegally track Ipid investigators.
As a result, these investigators did not sleep in their own homes.
McBride said: “The only other time I have lived like that was as an activist during the apartheid years and my officials were scared a lot of the time.”
Barely a week ago, Vearey echoed these words in a statement he issued while in hiding: “I have lived an underground existence before while in MK (Umkhonto weSizwe) and the ANC’s department of intelligence and security under apartheid. I will continue to do even more so now, to protect my family.”
Roughly a quarter of a century into democracy, we have senior state officials being forced to live as if it’s still the bad old days of apartheid spies and hit squads.
Senior cops have confirmed they are being targeted for exposing police corruption, with one fired officer now fearing for his life.
The biggest threat to national security is when the nation’s security flips, and we need to be protected from — not by — the police.
Corrupt cops can hold us, along with clean cops, hostage.
If they can arm gangsters, they can pull triggers by proxy.
One would have thought the undiluted tragedy of Kinnear’s killing would have had police bosses and other ranking government officials moving fast to clean up the SAPS.
But here we are — the warning signs are flashing once more. Something has to give. Again.
It would be a terrible shame if it came in the form of another assassination. DM