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ORGANISED CRIME ANALYSIS

Ex-cops in the cross-hairs – they face death threats, but say their SAPS bosses have abandoned them

Ex-cops in the cross-hairs – they face death threats, but say their SAPS bosses have abandoned them
Surrounded by bodyguards, alleged crime kingpin Nafiz Modack arrives at court in Cape Town in 2021. (Photo: Jaco Marais)

Since the killing of a top detective, former officers have been alleging that the authorities are not doing much to protect them from threats linked to organised crime – and sometimes to their colleagues.

A disturbing irony sometimes plays out in front of court buildings, especially in Cape Town. Organised crime suspects arrive with several private guards flanking them, while police investigators have smaller official protection details.

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 home in Cape Town. It is now well known that he had been under threat at the time of his murder.

Kinnear had even written to his South African Police Service (SAPS) bosses in 2018, 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 can’

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 for Kinnear’s safety.

Among those arrested in connection with his assassination are alleged crime kingpin Nafiz Modack and former Western Cape Anti-Gang Unit cop Ashley Tabisher. They are part of a group set to go on trial.

Read more in Daily Maverick: SA Police Service faces mounting accusations of failing to guard ex-cops ‘under threat’

In 2018, during a case in the Cape Town Magistrates’ Court in which Modack was an accused, Kinnear had testified how, before being detained, Modack had moved around with armed men and a convoy of vehicles “like only the president can”. The case involved suspected protection rackets.

Since Kinnear’s murder, former police officers have accused their bosses of effectively abandoning them while they feel their lives are at risk because of investigations they had been involved in. Daily Maverick understands that some who are still in the service feel the same.

Last week, Daily Maverick journalist Vincent Cruywagen reported that a former Hawks officer, Nico Heerschap, was suing the police for R13-million after the 2019 assassination of his father in a killing in which Heerschap himself was the intended target. He contended that police bosses failed to respond to threats against him and did not provide protection.

Heerschap, who retired because of ill health, had also been investigating Modack, among others.

Ex-cops face death threats Kinnear

Charl Kinnear was assassinated outside his home in Bishop Lavis, Cape Town. (Photo: Noor Slamdien)

‘No breach of duty’

Modack was charged in connection with the murder of Heerschap senior. 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 had been discharged from the service because of medical unfitness not arising from his official duties.

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

Heerschap is not the only retired police officer to raise flags about security.

In December 2022, retired Western Cape Anti-Gang Unit head André Lincoln, who left at the end of 2021, said police 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 officers in Gauteng were creating fraudulent firearm licences. Modack was 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.

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”.

Previously, former policeman Jeremy Vearey also raised concerns about security.

In July 2021 Vearey, who had been involved in major gang investigations including ones involving Modack, said he had gone into hiding because security assigned to him by police was insufficient.

When Sitole was still head of the SAPS, he expressed ‘outrage’ at Kinnear’s killing. He later faced criminal complaints over allegations that he had not cooperated with the police watchdog’s investigation of it.

Vearey, who was fired from the police in May 2021 over Facebook posts, took the SAPS to court after his security was withdrawn. The Western Cape High Court found in his favour, ordering police bosses to reinstate the security detail, but Vearey said the protection he was subsequently given was not up to scratch.

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

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. In 2021 the Gauteng High Court found that Vuma, together with Sitole and another of his deputies, had put the interests of the ANC above those of the country.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Nasrec grabber’-implicated top cop now loses bid to overturn suspension over alleged R500m PPE fraud

That case related to Crime Intelligence’s allegedly unlawful attempt to procure a surveillance device known as a grabber for the hugely inflated price of R45-million (the usual price was R7-million) before the ANC’s elective conference at Nasrec in 2017.

Ex-cops face death threats Vearey

General Jeremy Vearey during the Ministerial Stakeholder Engagement at Hout Bay Sports Field in Cape Town on 8 April 2019. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

When Sitole was still head of the SAPS, he expressed “outrage” at Kinnear’s killing. He later faced criminal complaints over allegations that he had not cooperated with the police watchdog’s investigation of it.

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

‘I’m scared for my life’

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

Fast-forward to July 2022, when Vuma wrote to President Cyril Ramaphosa and Hawks head Godfrey Lebeya, among others, saying: “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.

Read more about Caryn Dolley’s book, To the Wolves

“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.”

Ex-cops face death threats Andre Lincoln

Anti-Gang Unit head Major-General Andre Lincoln outside the Cape Town Regional Court during an underworld security extortion trial on 14 November 2018. (Photo: Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Jaco Marais)

Kinnear connection

Kinnear was killed at a time when he obviously distrusted certain colleagues and should have been under state protection.

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

If police officers cannot count on one another for protection, how can the SAPS be entrusted with the safety of the public? DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    In case the ex-cops haven’t noticed – SA policing is not protecting anybody! In fact the biggest criminals these days seem to come from the security services! With a man guilty ( or suspected of?) corruption heading SAPS one cannot expect much from our Police.
    Communities around South Africa are having to pick up the slack for most Security issues these days and there is more intimidation, crime, rape and murder in the townships than ever before.
    South Africa is not yet a gangster State but Russia is fast teaching us how to become one!
    Time to get out of BRICS and clean up our act!

  • Marc Ve says:

    And it’s for this Cele should be fired. What a useless, if not harmful, waste of a hat holder he is. “ Police Minister Bheki Cele also contended that the SAPS had no “constitutional duty” to “defend their own workers” and had not failed in any duties.”

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    All SAs have been abandoned.

  • Richard Owen says:

    Police Minister Bheki Cele also contended that the SAPS had no “constitutional duty” to “defend their own workers” and had not failed in any duties.
    this statement by the minister is beyond belief … either he must resign immediately or the president must remove him from his ministerial position. He is not fit for duty.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Price on my head 1997, from 2007 to 2018 threats by gansters and corrupt cops,resigned from Saps December 2018

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