SAPS IN CRISIS
Corruption-accused ex-top cop Khomotso Phahlane tells Public Protector of SAPS’s ‘destructive battle against him’
South Africa’s former top policeman, Khomotso Phahlane, who faces criminal charges, is on a mission to show how cops allegedly abused power to settle personal scores to his detriment — and the Public Protector’s office is looking into his claims.
Former acting national police commissioner Khomotso Phahlane was told to “step aside” from the post on 1 June 2017 over corruption claims. He did — and now, more than five years later, he’s trying to prove he was collateral in the “destructive battle for the soul and control of the South African Police Service (SAPS)”.
It is by no means the first time a former or serving police officer has claimed to have been unfairly sidelined or ousted from the service and that they had been dragged into cop infighting. What sets Phahlane apart is that while he is trying to prove what happened to him was unfair, he is also an accused in a developing court case.
Public Protector and court case
In June 2022, Phahlane approached the Public Protector, requesting that the circumstances under which his cop career came to a halt be investigated as part of a protracted battle he is having with the SAPS members he effectively believes set him up to take the blame for matters he insists he is not guilty of.
Part of his submission to the Public Protector says: “The intervention of the Public Protector to mitigate the abuse of power and state resources in settling personal scores in the irregular implementation of the South African Police Service Discipline Regulations 2016 is hereby sought.”
This week, Public Protector spokesperson Oupa Segalwe confirmed to Daily Maverick that it was looking into the matter.
On the flip side of the Public Protector matter, Phahlane faces a potentially steep legal battle in the Palm Ridge Specialised Commercial Crimes Court where he and others face charges in what has become known as the “blue lights” case, which is linked to an allegedly fraudulent tender to supply emergency equipment to the SAPS in 2016. The case resumes next week.
They face counts of “corruption, fraud, theft and money laundering”, the National Prosecuting Authority has said.
Daily Maverick understands there are four other matters under investigation against Phahlane, each dating back about five years.
Asked how, or if, these were progressing, the Investigating Directorate’s national spokesperson, Sindisiwe Seboka, told Daily Maverick in June: “As the Investigating Directorate we never divulge information about investigations, until persons have been arrested and appear before a court of law.
“We currently have the said accused in court in the blue lights matter.”
Meanwhile, Phahlane has approached the Public Protector to try to prove that his suspension as acting national commissioner was unlawful and that, the “blue lights” case aside, certain charges against him were concocted. Simply put, he has portrayed himself as an innocent individual who has been framed.
‘Destructive battle for control of SAPS’
Daily Maverick has seen a report to the Public Protector on Phahlane’s take on what happened to him, dated 20 June 2022 and which he signed. In the 24 pages, he comes across as aggrieved that some matters against him have dragged on for roughly half a decade.
The report reads: “The 1st of June 2022 brought about a completion of a vicious five-year circle/period of an onslaught, character assassination, assault on one’s integrity, abuse of power and authority including insults experienced in a malicious and destructive battle for the soul and control of the South African Police Service waged against Lieutenant-General Johannes Khomotso Phahlane.”
Former president Jacob Zuma appointed Phahlane to act as national police commissioner in October 2015. Fast-forward to 1 June 2017 and, Phahlane said, then police minister Fikile Mbalula asked him to step aside as acting commissioner. Phahlane did so, even though he pointed to the president as the “sole authority empowered by law to appoint and terminate the appointment of a person fulfilling the role”.
Eight days later a notice of suspension was served on him.
Irregular disciplinary processes
But Phahlane countered that the police did not properly follow their own disciplinary procedures.
“The time frames prescribed for in the South African Police Service Disciplinary Regulations 2016 lapsed and Lieutenant-General Phahlane remained at home until his dismissal [in July 2020],” the report to the Public Protector said.
“The suspension beyond the prescribed ninety (90) day period provided for in the SAPS Discipline Regulations is thus irregular and unlawful.”
Phahlane said his July 2020 dismissal also followed “the initiation of a hastily convened irregular disciplinary process whose outcomes is a subject of review at the Labour Court”.
Phahlane claims to the Public Protector that before he was fired, his suspension had been based on bogus allegations — five years had lapsed and he had not been criminally prosecuted over those, he says.
It is understood the allegations Phahlane refers to are with the Investigating Directorate, whose spokesperson has told Daily Maverick that comment will not be provided on investigations before suspects have been arrested and appeared in court. This implies those matters against Phahlane may still be under investigation.
Daily Maverick previously reported that the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) had launched several investigations into him while he was acting police commissioner, including for alleged fraud and corruption, and allegedly wrongfully appointing a team of North West SAPS members to conduct a counter-investigation into the police watchdog.
In the June report to the Public Protector on Phahlane’s version of events, the Ipid investigations are addressed:
“To date, there is no criminal prosecution nor misconduct charges preferred against Lieutenant-General Phahlane on any of the baseless and unsubstantiated allegations made by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid), Robert McBride and Paul O’Sullivan on which the so-called step-aside and/or suspension was premised.”
McBride is a former head of Ipid, while O’Sullivan is a forensic investigator.
Daily Maverick previously reported that Phahlane, at the Zondo Commission in 2021, denied any involvement in State Capture and accused McBride and O’Sullivan of going all out to tarnish his name.
Fair processes vs framed
In July 2021, the Safety and Security Sectoral Bargaining Council found that Phahlane’s dismissal from the police service the previous year was fair and justified. There is now a review application against his dismissal, launched by Phahlane, pending in the Labour Court.
At the time of the sectoral bargaining council finding, Daily Maverick’s Marianne Thamm reported that he had been dismissed “for his role in the procurement of a ‘panoramic visual capturing system’ of cameras for the Forensic Services division, which he headed prior to his acting appointment as commissioner”.
“In this instance, the former top cop was accused of stonewalling a 2014 contract with Ethemba Forensic Group for the provision of specialised cameras to the SAPS. This was after a complaint by competitor Keith Keating’s Forensic Data Analysts (FDA).”
Phahlane had later invited both FDA and Ethemba, which had already won the contract, to make presentations, in which he participated.
The report to the Public Protector extensively refers to the Ethemba matter, which Phahlane claims showed “the blatant disregard of procurement policies”.
Senior SAPS managers in cahoots
He pointed to several others who he claimed should shoulder some of the blame. Among them is former national police commissioner Khehla Sitole.
“The deliberate omission and/or failure to perform in accordance with the functional responsibilities as mandated by the Division: Supply Chain Management supported by Division: Legal and Policy Services in respect of contract management which resulted in the payment of R24 494 080-65 to Ethemba Forensic Group by former National Commissioner General Sitole should be frowned upon,” the report to the Public Protector said.
“The then National Commissioner, General Sitole and Senior Managers who were in cahoots with him, are covered in glory for the execution of their mandate to have delivered on the removal of Lieutenant-General Phahlane from the South African Police Service.”
Earlier in 2022, Sitole’s exit from the police service was similar to Phahlane’s.
In February it emerged that Sitole would vacate the top cop position prematurely because it would be in the best interest of the country — he had faced several accusations and on his watch cracks within the police service seemed to widen and deepen. So, Sitole was effectively shown the door while heading the country’s police service — much like Phahlane had been.
At the end of March, Lieutenant-General Sehlahle Fannie Masemola became national police commissioner. He now oversees the country’s cop service which is wracked with infighting, corruption claims and counterclaims.
Some of those stem from individuals who previously filled the critical national police commissioner seat and who, like Phahlane, have been accused of crimes. DM