South Africa


SA Police Service faces mounting accusations of failing to guard ex-cops ‘under threat’

SA Police Service faces mounting accusations of failing to guard ex-cops ‘under threat’
From left: Assassinated police Lieutenant-Colonel Charl Kinnear (Photo: Noor Slamdien) | Major-General Jeremy Vearey. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach) | Major-General Andre Lincoln. (Photo: Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Jaco Marais)

A worrying pattern has emerged since the assassination of policeman Charl Kinnear in 2020 — that of ex-cops alleging that their former bosses are not doing much to ensure their safety, despite threats linked to investigations into organised crime and sometimes their colleagues.

A disturbing irony sometimes plays out in front of court buildings, especially in Cape Town — that of organised crime suspects arriving for cases with several privately hired, or self-styled, guards flanking them, while police investigators may have a smaller cop protection detail.

This suggests an imbalance, with criminals having more security backup at their disposal than those in the state tasked with pursuing them.

In South Africa’s gangsterism capital, the Western Cape, a reverberating incident that highlighted security disparities was the September 2020 assassination of detective Charl Kinnear.

Kinnear, who was investigating organised crime suspects including fellow cops, was shot outside his Bishop Lavis home in Cape Town.

‘Lives at risk’

It is now well-reported and known that at the time of his murder, he had been under threat.

In December 2018 Kinnear had even written to his South African Police Service (SAPS) bosses, saying fellow officers were colluding with suspects and working against him and some of his colleagues.

Part of Kinnear’s complaint said: “Every day I get home my neighbours can inform me of all the different vehicles that [were] stationary in front of my house…

“I have in the interim found out that the vehicles belong to Crime Intelligence Unit members. My neighbours are also becoming paranoid as they think their lives might be at risk.”

It was Kinnear’s life that was at risk.

‘Like only the president’

Following his murder, investigations were launched in the SAPS, and by its watchdog the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, into why Kinnear was not under state protection at the time of his killing, when he was under obvious threat.

It seems no one in the state has yet been held to account over Kinnear’s safety.

In terms of his assassination, among those arrested in connection with it are alleged organised crime kingpin Nafiz Modack, as well as former Western Cape Anti-Gang Unit cop Ashley Tabisher.

They are part of a group set to go on trial.

In 2018 during a case relating to private security in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court, in which Modack was an accused at the time, Kinnear had testified about how prior to being detained, Modack had moved around with several armed men and a convoy of vehicles “like only the president can.” 

(The president at the time was Jacob Zuma.)

Nafiz Modack is flanked by his bodyguards outside the Cape Town Magistates’ Court where he and his mother appeared on charges of corruption on 16 July 2019 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Jaco Marais)

Suing SAPS

Meanwhile, since Kinnear’s murder, former police officers have accused their bosses of effectively abandoning them while they feel their lives are at risk due to investigations they were involved in while in the SAPS.

Daily Maverick understands that some police officers, still in the service, feel similarly.

Last week Daily Maverick journalist Vincent Cruywagen reported that a former Hawks officer, Nico Heerschap, was suing the police for R13-million following the July 2019 assassination of his father in a killing in which Heerschap himself was the intended target.

Heerschap contended that police bosses failed to respond to threats against him and did not provide protection for him and his family.

The situation bears a resemblance to the Kinnear matter.

When in the police service, Heerschap, who retired due to ill health, had been investigating, among others, Modack.

‘No breach of duty’

Modack was subsequently charged in connection with Heerschap senior’s murder.

According to Cruywagen’s article, for the SAPS’s part, it was alleged that Heerschap had been running a side business that had competed with Modack’s and that Heerschap was discharged from the service on medical unfitness grounds not arising from his official work duties.

Police Minister Bheki Cele also contended the SAPS had no “constitutional duty” to “defend their own workers” and had not breached any of its duties.

Heerschap, though, is not the only retired police officer to raise flags about SAPS and security.

Major-General Andre Lincoln leads the Anti-Gang unit outside the Cape Town Regional Court during the underworld security extortion trial on 14 November 2018 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Jaco Marais)

Safety concerns

In December last year retired Western Cape Anti-Gang Unit head Andre Lincoln, who left the police service at the end of 2021, said cop bosses had removed a protection detail assigned to him a day after Kinnear was killed.

Lincoln, along with Anti-Gang Unit cops including Kinnear, had been investigating whether fellow police officers in Gauteng were creating fraudulent firearm licences — Modack was also among the suspects in this case.

I am concerned about the security of my family and myself. I still have to testify in court cases and there is constant information about possible hits,” Lincoln told Daily Maverick in December last year when discussing his security situation.

He added that he had been told a National Crime Intelligence Threat Risk Assessment “did not give any suggestions that the threat on my life has lessened”.

Former policeman Jeremy Vearey has also before raised concerns about security.

Former head of Western Cape detectives, Major-General Jeremy Vearey, speaks at the Cape Town Press Club on 31 August 2022. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

‘Life and death’

In July 2021 Vearey, who had been involved in major gang investigations including ones into Modack, said he had gone into hiding as a security detail that cops assigned to him was insufficient.

Vearey, who was fired from the police service in May 2021 over Facebook posts, had taken the SAPS to court after his security was withdrawn.

The Western Cape high court had found in his favour, ordering cop bosses to reinstate the security detail, but Vearey said the protection he was subsequently given was not up to scratch.

“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.

“This is about a life and death struggle for survival against the politics of organised crime, and will be responded to accordingly, SAPS protection notwithstanding.”

Vearey did not remain in hiding for very long.

Suspended deputy police commissioner Francinah Vuma on 19 September 2021 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Laird Forbes)

Criminal complaints against ex-cop boss

Then there is the case of suspended senior cop Francinah Vuma, which is linked to former national police commissioner Khehla Sitole.

Daily Maverick previously reported that in January 2021 the Gauteng high court found that Vuma, together with Sitole and another of his deputies, was found to have breached her duties and placed the interests of the ANC above those of the country

That case related to the so-called “Nasrec grabber” scandal involving Crime Intelligence’s allegedly unlawful attempt at procuring a surveillance device known as a grabber for the heavily inflated price of R45-million (the regular price was R7-million) before the ANC’s elective conference at Nasrec in 2017.

Sitole, who “expressed outrage” at Kinnear’s killing when it happened when he was still head of South Africa’s police service, also later faced criminal complaints over allegations he did not cooperate with the police watchdog’s investigation into what happened to Kinnear.

He denied not cooperating but the Kinnear saga was among those clinging to him when he was made to step down from the role of national police commissioner in February 2022.

‘I’m scared for my life’

For her part, Vuma was previously involved in an investigation into Kinnear’s lack of security at the time of his assassination.

Fast-forward to July last year — Vuma wrote to, among others, President Cyril Ramaphosa and Hawks head Godfrey Lebeya, saying: “I want to state upfront that… I am both scared for my life and livelihood as both are being threatened because I have taken it upon myself not to be influenced in my decisions and to stand on principle.

“In my capacity as Deputy National Commissioner responsible for asset management, I have had to rebuff numerous attempts by my seniors, to sway certain contracts to benefit certain companies.”

Vuma, based on her claims, appeared to fear fellow police officers.

Her case aside, an undercurrent beneath the examples detailed here, of former police officers expressing dissatisfaction about their security, is the Kinnear matter.

Kinnear connection

He was killed when he obviously distrusted certain colleagues and when he should have been under state protection.

Kinnear, as well as Heerschap, Lincoln and Vearey, were involved in investigating Modack, who now faces accusations in Heerschap senior’s murder and, along with ex-cop Ashley Tabisher, is accused in connection with Kinnear’s assassination.

Whichever way it is looked at, and whatever reasons police bosses may have in relation to the (non)protection of various former and current officers, the situation involving SAPS and security is deeply unsettling. 

Especially when viewed in conjunction with allegations that organised crime suspects, like Modack, have infiltrated the private security industry, suggesting they have open access to such services.

Beneath all this are residents largely reliant on the state for law enforcement.

But if police officers cannot trust each other, or count on one another for protection, then it raises the obvious question, how can the SAPS be entrusted with our safety? DM


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