LAW AND DISORDER
Justice minister and Good party firm that Cape Town cop unit a ‘rogue operation’
The Good party has again claimed that the City of Cape Town’s controversial Safety and Security Investigations Unit is operating unlawfully, this time based on what Justice Minister Ronald Lamola says. But the city insists all is above board.
Recurring claims that an investigative unit within the City of Cape Town is effectively illegal are back in focus, with Justice Minister Ronald Lamola saying it is operating outside the confines of the law.
At the heart of the saga is the city’s Safety and Security Investigations Unit (SSIU). It was previously known as the Special Investigating Unit, a name that was already in use as this is what the national government calls its “forensic investigation and litigation agency”.
This week Justice Ministry spokesperson Chrispin Phiri confirmed to Daily Maverick that the department was looking into the SSIU.
In January this year, Daily Maverick also reported that Police Minister Bheki Cele was going to look into the unit’s operations. The police ministry’s spokesperson was unable to provide an update on this by the time of publication, but it is understood an investigation into the unit is being conducted at national level.
If the City of Cape Town is to be believed, though, the unit’s activities do not need investigating.
Politics and policing
This issue is part of a broader political spat over policing powers. The SSIU falls under the City of Cape Town which is run by the DA, while the South African Police Service is national and therefore falls under the ANC government.
Last year, Daily Maverick reported that Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis wanted a police service run by the city rather than national government. Cele is opposed to this idea.
Cele has also seemingly referred to the SSIU previously, saying that “the rogue conduct by certain metros of creating parallel structures of law enforcement aimed at undermining the Constitution cannot be left unchallenged”.
The Good party has also been vocal about the SSIU, sharing similar views to the ANC. Some Good members, including its leader Patricia de Lille and secretary-general Brett Herron, were once prominent members of the DA.
Back in 2017, when De Lille was the mayor of Cape Town, she ordered the unit to be shut down as it was “overstepping” its mandate.
In representations to the DA’s federal executive chair in 2018, De Lille said: “The powers of investigation which the [unit] appear to have accorded to itself, was impermissible and contrary to law.”
The unit was reportedly reinstated in May 2018.
Last week, Herron again brought up the SSIU issue.
“The Good party and its leaders have sought to have the unit closed down for a number of years,” he said.
“Rogue policing and illegal intelligence functions are dangerous and ultimately undermine the fight against crime.”
In response to Parliamentary questions he submitted last week about the lawfulness of the SSIU, Herron said the justice minister had responded by saying the unit was operating outside legal boundaries.
“Officers employed in the… unit unlawfully operate as municipal police officers, carry city-issued firearms and claim peace officer powers under the Police Act, despite not being established in terms of the act (the only act that empowers a municipality to conduct any policing),” Herron said.
“Furthermore, only properly trained officers appointed to a municipal police service are recognised as peace officers and may exercise the powers prescribed by the Minister of Justice in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act.
“A city employee who is not appointed to a municipal police service is not a proper peace officer and thus may not exercise any policing powers.”
In his response to Herron’s Parliamentary questions, Justice Minister Lamola said the Constitution “provides that security services, other than those established in terms of the Constitution, may be established only in terms of national legislation”.
He referred to sections of the SAPS Act that “clearly do not afford a municipal police service the power to investigate offences”.
On Monday, in response to Daily Maverick’s questions about the SSIU, the City of Cape Town said: “Please note the city has not received any correspondence from the Minister of Justice.”
The city also said it had “previously comprehensively responded to this matter”. And instead of responding to specific questions, it sent a link to an opinion piece written by mayoral committee member for safety and security, JP Smith, and published by News24 in March this year.
In it, Smith said: “Our goal is not to please the ANC and its allies. We will not close our eyes to crime in our mission to make Cape Town safer. While policing collapses nationally, the city will grow its own policing resources and assert our powers, because we know this is the only way to better protect residents.
“The city’s Safety and Security Investigations Unit (SSIU) operates fully within the law, and does laudable work. It is empowered by the Criminal Procedure Amendment Act and the 2018 Peace Officer Declaration, which specifically sets out the powers and functions of municipal law enforcement.
“In terms of the declaration, our officials may investigate various offences related to firearms, drugs and trafficking, laws governing building safety and protecting public property, municipal by-laws, traffic and liquor.”
Controversial ex-cops and criminal cases
Aside from its operations, the SSIU has also courted controversy because of a figure linked to it. Last week, Herron referred to City of Cape Town official, Reynold Talmakkies, who had been referred to in previous media reports as the SSIU’s head.
A former police officer, Talmakkies became a City of Cape Town Safety and Security Directorate staff member. In a tweet from January 2020, the US’s New England Drug Enforcement Administration referred to Talmakkies, who was visiting there, as Cape Town’s “Chief of Special Operations”.
That same month, the Cambridge Police Department, also in a tweet, referred to him as “Chief of the City of Cape Town’s Safety and Security Division”.
Up until this year, the city had not publicly denied media reports referring to Talmakkies as the SSIU’s head. However, in January, Smith said the SSIU had always had another chief.
On Monday, the city reiterated this to Daily Maverick: “The Chief of the SSIU is Mr Nyaniso Ngele. Mr Talmakkies is a head within the unit, and not the overall chief, as falsely claimed.”
Daily Maverick previously reported that Talmakkies was arrested in December 2021. He faced charges in Cape Town with two others — Asif Khan, the director of a construction company, and Paul Scheepers, a former Crime Intelligence cop — in connection with tender fraud involving hundreds of millions of rands.
Scheepers has a loaded history with the DA. This involves an arrest for allegedly having illegally procured a surveillance device known as a “grabber”, as well as accusations that he was spying on rival politicians on behalf of then Western Cape premier Helen Zille.
Zille denied this was the case.
Apart from the case in which he is accused with Scheepers, Talmakkies is involved in other legal matters. In April 2021, Daily Maverick reported that Talmakkies had been criminally charged in a case involving alleged docket tampering linked to a police station in Mpumalanga. He pleaded not guilty in this case that goes back to 2016.
Court and legal fees
This week, the city confirmed to Daily Maverick that it was aware of the criminal cases involving Talmakkies and indirectly acknowledged it was paying his legal fees in the Cape Town fraud matter.
“Mr Talmakkies has been placed on administrative duty while due process is followed in the courts regarding the two matters, both of which arose after his initial appointment,” it said.
“Should any wrongdoing be found, the city reserves the right to recover the costs of legal representation in the Cape Town matter.”
Talmakkies’ son, David, also faces criminal charges in a separate case relating to a murder in December 2020. In a statement issued last week, Herron referred to this, as well as a more recent matter involving arrests and the withdrawal of charges relating to a firearm.
“Although David is an adult — and you can’t always lay the blame for the alleged sins of children at the feet of their parents — the circumstances of his arrest, and the company he evidently keeps, do raise further uncomfortable questions about integrity,” said Herron DM
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