Prediction for the police in 2023 is laden with storms and scandals

Prediction for the police in 2023 is laden with storms and scandals
From left: Former police commissioner Kgomotso Phahlane. (Photo: Gallo Images / Beeld / Herman Verwey) | Whistle-blower Patricia Mashale. (Photo: Supplied) I Lt-Col Charl Kinnear was assassinated outside his home in Cape Town. (Photo: Supplied) | Minister of Police Bheki Cele. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

As if 2022 was not turbulent enough, this year we can expect the SAPS to face continued criminal investigations into many of its members.

From warnings of gang infiltration to the country’s top cop facing criminal accusations and stepping down, scandals slammed into the South African Police Service (SAPS) this year – and conditions are ideal for even more to develop in 2023.

The year started with the dense storm clouds hovering over the SAPS finally bursting. In January, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) lodged criminal complaints against Khehla Sitole, the country’s highest-ranking police officer, alleging he failed to cooperate in a critical investigation relating to a detective’s assassination. Sitole denied it.

Just two months down the line, the end of March marked yet another pivotal – and scandalous – moment for the SAPS. Sitole’s contract was terminated and he stepped down in a move the Presidency described as “in the best interests of the country”.

Lieutenant General Fannie Masemola then took position in the hot seat.

By this point, though, a turbulent tone was set for the rest of the year.

Criminality and distrust

Certain crimes, for example kidnapping, rocketed and some figures linked to the SAPS pointed to it as being a service that not just fights crime, but also commits it.

Former acting national police commissioner Kgomotso Phahlane was arrested again in September in relation to a second criminal case in which he was an accused.

According to the National Prosecuting Authority, Phahlane, along with five others (of whom three are Crime Intelligence officers), faced “charges of fraud, corruption, theft and contravention of the Public Finance Management Act pertaining to two police tenders issued in 2016, with an estimated value of R54-million”.

Fragmenting issues in the SAPS run deeper. Former police administration clerk Patricia Mashale told Parliament in December that she feared for her life and was in hiding because she blew the whistle on massive corruption in the police service relating to Free State.

Mashale said she did not trust members of the SAPS or the State Security Agency (SSA) to conduct a threat assessment on her.

DM168 understands other past and present members of the service share Mashale’s feelings about the SAPS.

These and other SAPS storms that developed in 2022 will likely continue casting ominous clouds over the police in 2023, merging with fresh scandals that will also make landfall.

‘Hurricane’ Phala Phala

The biggest political storm to smash into democratic South Africa will possibly also rip into the police service and tear up some cop careers in its path.

In June 2022, former SSA boss Arthur Fraser lodged a criminal complaint against President Cyril Ramaphosa – whom a panel has found may have violated the law – relating to millions of US dollars stolen in an allegedly unreported robbery at his Phala Phala farm in Limpopo. The events took place  in 2020.

Months after Fraser lodged his complaint, Ipid issued a statement confirming it was looking into Phala Phala-related matters, as were the Hawks.

Ipid said it would look into the alleged actions of police officers in terms of SAPS regulations, “while the Hawks is investigating the criminal element by the SAPS officials, which include, among others, defeating the ends of justice and kidnapping”.

Cops colluding with gangsters

Another recent downpour of accusations that pummelled the SAPS also relates to criminal elements in it.

A Western Cape High Court judgment by Judge Daniel Thulare, dated October 2022, said evidence in a gang-related case suggested that members of the 28s gang had corrupted not only low-ranking police officers in the Western Cape, but also the management structure.

Western Cape Premier Alan Winde subsequently asked the province’s police ombud to investigate the claims, and in December he announced that it was found that those claims were likely true – and the problem of cops colluding with gangsters was much broader.

The SAPS was also studying the contents of the judgment for possible investigations.

Next year will likely see developments in this cop-gangster collusion claims saga.

Yet another storm that remains rumbling above the SAPS is linked to the September 2020 assassination of Lieutenant Colonel Charl Kinnear, who was fatally shot outside his Bishop Lavis home in Cape Town.

Kinnear’s murder

Kinnear’s killing brought several SAPS problems into the public domain. For example, he had no state protection at the time of his murder despite being under obvious threat, he was investigating organised crime suspects, including colleagues, and two years earlier he had complained about fellow police who he said were working against him.

At the time of his murder, Minister of Police Bheki Cele said: “This family deserves to know whether their father was failed and, if so, heads must roll.”

This is yet to happen.

The Kinnear matter featured prominently in Parliament in 2022, when Ipid controversially restricted a report on its investigation into his lack of security ahead of his murder.

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Ipid’s investigation found that several police officers, from provincial level to national office, let Kinnear down.

This was the investigation that resulted in Ipid lodging the criminal complaints against Sitole for allegedly not cooperating with it.

Ipid found that a rogue unit of police officers was operating in the Western Cape and that four members– two captains, a warrant officer and the brigadier – should be departmentally charged.

It also found that national Hawks head Lieutenant General Godfrey Lebeya “failed to ensure that the [Hawks] members implicated investigated the threat against the state and therefore failed to protect … the state”.

Lebeya denied this, but 2023 may see some cop heads finally rolling in relation to Kinnear’s assassination.

‘Cele must go’

This brings us back to Cele. The coming year could see him clinging on to, or letting go of, his police minister title as calls for him to leave the position gust from different directions.

In early 2022, the South African Police Union called for Cele to step down as it felt he had failed to empower the cop service.

The DA in September also held a march to demand that he vacate the police minister position.

“It is only in this ANC government that a man who has presided over one of the worst violent crime waves outside of a war zone would still be rewarded with the perks, pay and power of a Cabinet position. He is a danger to society and he must be fired,” the DA said in a statement. “Bheki Cele must go.”

Earlier in 2022, Cele’s spokesperson, Lirandzu Themba, told DM168: “[Cele] is employed to his position at the behest of the President and if he is asked to leave, it’s an order he won’t defy.”

2023 could therefore perhaps see Cele’s own head rolling.

Whatever ends up happening, it would be wise for South Africans to batten down the hatches as more SAPS storms are undoubtedly rolling in. DM168

Caryn Dolley has spent years tracing the footprints of crime/drug kingpins from across the world. In her latest book, Clash of the Cartels, Dolley provides unprecedented insight into how specific drug cartels and syndicates have operated via South Africa, becoming embroiled in deadly violence in the country and bolstering local criminal networks. Available now from the Daily Maverick Shop.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.


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