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ANALYSIS

The assassination of cop Charl Kinnear – three years of controversy and waiting for accountability

The assassination of cop Charl Kinnear – three years of controversy and waiting for accountability
Illustrative image: The funeral service of slain Lieutenant-Colonel Charl Kinnear (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach) | Charl Kinnear. (Photo: Supplied)

Detective Charl Kinnear was assassinated outside his Cape Town home on 18 September 2020. In the three years since then, issues surrounding the case have become steeped in controversy – and it is yet to be seen whether certain police officers will be held accountable for the tragedy.

Three years ago, a gunman walked up to Charl Kinnear and shot him in the head.

The detective, who should have been under state protection at the time, died as he sat in his car outside his home in the Cape Town suburb of Bishop Lavis.

His murder exposed deep distrust, and critical problems, in the South African Police Service (SAPS).

The month of Kinnear’s murder – September – is when the SAPS usually pays annual tribute to officers who have died.

This year the national commemoration was held on 3 September and 34 officers were honoured.

158 years jail for nine cop killers

President Cyril Ramaphosa called for justice for the families of cops who have been killed.

“The hard work of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations, known as the Hawks, has resulted in the arrest of 76 suspected police murderers over the past year,” he added.

“A total of 488 suspects have been arrested for deaths of police officers since 2018. Through diligent investigative work, nine convicted police killers were handed down nine life sentences, a sum total of 158 years’ imprisonment.”

The Kinnear case, and unresolved aspects linked to it, underpins these statements.

Over the three years since his murder, it has become the centre of various controversies, and his family is still awaiting justice.

‘One of the good guys’

A day after Kinnear’s assassination, on 19 September 2020, Police Minister Bheki Cele said: “This officer was one of the good guys but was taken away by ruthless criminals that [were] feeling the heat through his investigations…

“From the report I have received, this officer has been under threat for some time. He was provided with police protection but that was withdrawn at some point, now I want to know what informed that decision. 

Charl Kinnear killing

Monday, 18 September 2023 marked three years since Charl Kinnear was murdered.

“This family deserves to know whether their father was failed, and if so, heads must roll.”

Heads were identified, but they are yet to “roll”.

Gunman unaccounted for

While suspects, including alleged organised crime kingpin Nafiz Modack, were arrested and are set to go on trial in connection with Kinnear’s killing, the fate of the gunman who pulled the trigger remains unclear.

Nothing has been made public in terms of the gunman being detained.

There were some suspicions in policing circles that the gunman himself had been killed, but this was never proven as fact.

More details relating to the gunman are likely to be aired in the Western Cape High Court as the Kinnear murder case develops further.

Meanwhile, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) launched investigations into why Kinnear was not under state protection at the time of his murder, when it was clear that threats were directed at him.

Daily Maverick previously reported that Ipid’s findings on the Kinnear security situation, contained in a May 2022 report, highlighted critical shortcomings in the police service.

Findings against cops

Ipid’s findings included that two Hawks officers should be criminally charged for failing to act when Kinnear’s cellphone was being monitored in the run-up to his assassination.

It was also alleged that 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 national interest or security of the state.”

Lebeya hit back, saying a Hawks officer had gone beyond their duty to alert colleagues about the threat to Kinnear’s life and that there was some “ignorance” about how the Hawks conducted the investigation.

In December 2018, Kinnear complained to his bosses about certain police officers linked to Crime Intelligence in the Western Cape who he alleged were using state resources against him.

In its May 2022 findings, Ipid said a “rogue” style cop unit had indeed existed and “created further animosity amongst leadership, sowing division” in the Western Cape police service.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Clear and Present Danger: Rogue cop unit could subvert Western Cape police service unless shut down

“This may have created a perfect opportunity for underworld syndicates and figures such as Nafiz Modack to infiltrate SAPS to monitor the movement of key role players,” Ipid said.

Fraudulent firearm licences

It had also found that Kinnear’s assassination could result in the collapse of cop corruption cases relating to fraudulent firearm licences.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Killing Charl Kinnear could collapse critical cop gun corruption cases

“The designated firearms officers would facilitate the processing of the firearm licence application to individuals who are not fit to possess firearms,” Ipid’s May 2022 report said.

“The investigations gave rise to the arrest of the suspects and for SAPS to institute disciplinary actions against involved members. However, his death has led to the effective collapse of these cases.

Charl Kinnear killing

The coffin of slain detective Charl Kinnear leaves the church after the funeral service in Cape Town on 3 October 2020. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

“There are a number of reasons that can be attributed to the effective collapse of the investigations, some of the reasons noted by the task team is that Lieutenant-Colonel Kinnear was the only person who had intimate knowledge of the cases.”

Modack was among a group of suspects, including police officers in Gauteng, who were arrested in 2020 in a fraudulent firearm licence case.

However, the related charges were provisionally withdrawn against the group at the end of April 2023.

‘Slow progress’

In November 2022, Parliament’s police committee “criticised the slow progress in implementing the recommendations” that Ipid had made in its May 2022 report.

“The committee considers the tardiness in implementing both the recommendations and in instituting further internal SAPS investigations undermines the assurance given to the Kinnear family that justice will be done,” the committee said. 

“It is also worrying that despite clear recommendations from Ipid, SAPS decided to appoint a member to investigate allegations of misconduct, which subsequently absolved SAPS members of any wrongdoing.”

‘Secret’ report

The Ipid report itself became controversial.

It was widely leaked.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘We were lied to’ – The fiasco of ‘Top Secret’ Ipid report into the assassination of senior cop Charl Kinnear

Daily Maverick and other publications ran several articles about its contents.

But it later emerged that the report was classified as Top Secret, meaning only those with special clearance were allowed to access it. 

Parliament had heard, though, that proper processes had not been followed when the report was initially classified.

Top(pled) cop

At the time of Kinnear’s assassination, Khehla Sitole was South Africa’s national police commissioner.

In January 2022, Daily Maverick reported that in the previous month Ipid lodged a criminal complaint against him, alleging that he failed to cooperate with its investigation into matters surrounding Kinnear.

Sitole denied the allegations.

But a month later, in February 2022, it emerged that Sitole would step down as national commissioner ahead of schedule, because this was, according to a Presidency statement, “in the best interests of the country”.

Lieutenant-General Fannie Masemola became the country’s cop boss, inheriting the policing problems picked up during investigations into Kinnear’s lack of security.

It is yet to be seen whether those problems will be properly tackled – and whether certain police officers will be held to account over the Kinnear matter – under Masemola’s leadership. DM

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