SAPS IN CRISIS
How investigator (mis)understood Jeremy Vearey’s Facebook posts that led to the detective chief’s firing
During a hearing into the controversial firing of Western Cape detective head Jeremy Vearey, emphasis was placed on how the policeman who investigated his conduct interpreted Vearey’s Facebook posts that ultimately led to his dismissal.
A policeman tasked with investigating the conduct of dismissed Western Cape detective head Jeremy Vearey believed some of Vearey’s Facebook comments were attempts to take swipes at his bosses and rattle South Africa’s stability.
It was heard on Monday that Major-General JP Scheepers believed some of the words Vearey had used bordered on treason.
“What he’s saying [and paired with the context] as a senior general, that is treason, you have a senior general in the police rising up against your national commissioner,” Scheepers said during a hearing into Vearey’s recent dismissal.
Referencing a set of Vearey’s Facebook posts, Scheepers also said that when “trying to overthrow [senior police officers]… you’re trying to unsettle the peace and stability of the country”.
It was pointed out to Scheepers that this was his interpretation of the comments and was not Vearey’s intention. However, Scheepers remained of the view that Vearey’s Facebook posts, made when Vearey was a senior police general, had the potential to incite violence.
In April this year, National Police Commissioner Khehla Sitole appointed Scheepers to investigate Vearey’s conduct relating to several Facebook posts he made while still in the South African Police Service (SAPS). Scheepers’ findings included that: “The social media posts… clearly display evidence of serious ill-discipline, his total disrespect for top management officers in the SAPS, his total disregard for prescribed processes within the SAPS, and his public rejection of peace and stability within the community of South Africa.”
Sitole signed off on Vearey’s dismissal at the end of May.
In court papers indirectly linked to his firing, Vearey said he believes there is a strategy at play to rid the police service of himself and his colleagues Major-General Peter Jacobs and Major-General André Lincoln. Jacobs previously headed Crime Intelligence and Lincoln headed the Western Cape’s Anti-Gang Unit.
“We exposed corruption in the police and we diligently committed ourselves to the eradication of gang activities and police corruption,” Vearey said.
“I respectfully submit that my dismissal is none other than a method to achieve ulterior motives of senior police management.”
Vearey is challenging his firing, and a Safety and Security Sectoral Bargaining Council hearing into this proceeded on Monday. It was during these proceedings that Scheepers testified while under cross-examination. The personal translation of words versus the intention behind using these, became a central theme as Scheepers was questioned.
Between December 2020 and January 2021, Vearey posted eight comments on Facebook above links to news articles on happenings within the police service. These posts can be viewed here.
Scheepers on Monday conceded he had not read any of the news articles Vearey had shared via Facebook, as his mandate was simply to investigate Vearey’s conduct.
Vearey’s legal representative, Johann Nortje, explained that the contents of the articles provided necessary context to Vearey’s Facebook comments. Scheepers, though, was adamant that his investigation was only into Vearey’s conduct relating to his Facebook posts and as such, he did not regard the contents of the articles as pertinent to it.
Losing it in translation
Vearey’s most controversial – in the eyes of certain police bosses – Facebook post included the words “moer hulle” which an online function had translated to “fuck them”.
It was heard that Vearey himself had not posted the words “fuck them” beneath the words he did post, “moer hulle”. Nortje explained “moer hulle” meant “go for it” when translated from Afrikaaps, a Western Cape dialect used by Vearey.
However, Scheepers on Monday said that in Afrikaans, as a hunter, if he saw an animal was positioned at the correct angle to strike it, he would say “moer hulle”. He conceded that “moer can mean your mother, it can mean a potato, it can mean a lot of things” but that “in the hunting environment it means to kill”.
Scheepers said the general understanding of the words “moer hulle” was “to cause harm” and if followed by the translated words “fuck them,” it “shows the aggression”.
Nortje pointed out that Vearey had not posted the words “fuck them” and an expert would be called as a witness if necessary to expand on this.
Another of Vearey’s Facebook posts said: “AN ACUTE CASE OF FOOT-IN-MOUTH DISEASE?” with a link to this DM168 article about the police investigating Jacobs themselves being the focus of an investigation. Scheepers felt the language in the post was not befitting of a senior person in any organisation, not just the police.
“Foot-in-mouth disease is a disease that you’ll find with cows, where there’s ulcers on the foot and the tongue and the mouth,” he said.
“I’m a farmer myself so I know exactly what this is.”
Scheepers was under the impression that Vearey may have been, in a derogatory way, referring to a police spokesman having sores in his mouth. Nortje asked Scheepers if he heard of the expression “he put his foot in his mouth”, to which Scheepers replied he had, and it meant “when you stopped abruptly”.
He then agreed it was “when you’re embarrassing yourself”.
Another of Vearey’s Facebook posts that motivated his firing said: “‘THE YEAR OF DECEIVING DANGEROUSLY” and included a picture of Sitole that was part of a link to this DM168 article about Crime Intelligence.
Scheepers on Monday testified that Vearey’s comment on Facebook was “obviously” referring to Sitole, especially because it was above the photograph of Sitole. But Nortje again pointed out this was Scheepers’ interpretation of the comment and that Vearey had actually been referring to the media getting it wrong and that in the article several sources had given contradictory information.
Because Scheepers had not read the article, Nortje said Scheepers would not know if it was a negative or positive article, and therefore could not have known if Vearey’s words – “the year of deceiving dangerously” – referred to something positive or negative.
Scheepers said: “I took it on face value.”
Cop ‘never mentioned Vearey’
In his investigation into Vearey’s conduct, Scheepers used written statements, including from Lieutenant-General Nneke Ledwaba and Lieutenant-General Francinah Vuma.
Ledwaba had been Limpopo’s provincial commissioner and Scheepers was based in that province.
Both Ledwaba and Vuma were involved in looking into allegations that Jacobs, who went on to be controversially transferred from heading Crime Intelligence in March this year, was guilty of misconduct for buying personal protective equipment (PPE) via the secret service account.
Vearey had represented Jacobs in the PPE saga.
A statement by Ledwaba, according to Scheepers’ investigation findings, said that Ledwaba “indicated that when he became aware of the Facebook postings by Major-General Vearey he felt threatened, intimidated and unsafe”.
In the case of Vuma, her statement said she felt intimidated by messages she received.
“She was seriously concerned about safety and noticed that people are monitoring her house with different vehicles,” Scheepers’ investigation found. He had not probed who those people were.
Scheepers found that urgent risk assessment needed to be done on Ledwaba and Vuma. But Nortje on Monday pointed out that Vuma never mentioned Vearey and “there’s not one word in her statement against Jeremy Vearey”.
Nortje argued it was only Scheepers who made the link between Vuma’s security fears and Vearey. Scheepers said one of those who allegedly sent intimidating messages to Vuma was a Facebook friend or follower of Vearey’s.
Crime Intelligence ‘rogue unit’ claims resurface
During his investigation into Vearey’s conduct, Scheepers also spoke to Western Cape Crime Intelligence head Mzwandile Tiyo.
It turned out that Tiyo had contacted national police spokesperson Vish Naidoo about Vearey’s Facebook posts and Naidoo had then complained about those.
Nortje said: “The origin of this whole complaint against Vearey is Tiyo.”
Nortje asked Scheepers if he knew members of a rogue Crime Intelligence unit were operating in the Western Cape and Scheepers said what he knew was what he read in the media. In addition, Nortje put it to Scheepers that he knew the “rogue unit is headed by Tiyo” and had a history of effectively working against Vearey, Jacobs and Lincoln.
Scheepers responded that he was aware there were disagreements among senior police officers in the Western Cape. He knew Tiyo and Vearey did not see eye-to-eye from media reports, the veracity of which he was not sure.
Asked why there was no statement from Tiyo as part of his investigation, Scheepers replied that “it’s my choice” as to whom he obtains statements from, and he did not think a statement from Tiyo would have contributed to his investigation.
Claims of a rogue unit with links to Crime Intelligence in the Western Cape previously surfaced and made news.
Towards the end of 2018, Lieutenant-Colonel Charl Kinnear, who was assassinated in Cape Town outside his Bishop Lavis home in September last year, complained to his bosses that police service members who had links to Crime Intelligence in the Western Cape were allegedly working against him and colleagues, including Vearey, Jacobs and Lincoln.
Kinnear further alleged some of those officers were aligned to suspected criminals. Jacobs, in his capacity as Crime Intelligence national head at the time, had found the officers Kinnear complained about were part of a “rogue unit” that he recommended be disbanded.
This had not happened.
Nortje on Monday put it to Scheepers that the reason he was chosen to investigate Vearey’s conduct was that he was based in Limpopo and not the Western Cape so was not privy to finer aspects of internal police friction involving Vearey.
Scheepers, however, said he believed he was appointed because he had a clean record without skeletons in his closet. He said his investigation into Vearey’s conduct had nothing to do with any other investigations Vearey had been involved in – including the guns to gangs one, which involved allegations of senior police in Gauteng channelling firearms to gangsters in the Western Cape.
Scheepers, who pointed out he has nothing to do with Crime Intelligence, also said his investigation into Vearey had nothing to do with trying “to get rid of him”.
The hearing into Vearey’s dismissal continues. DM