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SANDF says issues of torture did not form basis of inquiry, denies existence of military ‘death squad’

SANDF says issues of torture did not form basis of inquiry, denies existence of military ‘death squad’
Chief of the South African National Defence Force Lieutenant General Rudzani Maphwanya. (Photo: Defence Web)

Generals from the top echelons of the South African National Defence Force on Thursday denied the allegations of the existence of a military squad responsible for acts of torture and murder. But they deflected on providing factual responses to many of the allegations. Instead, media reports of the ‘fabrications’ came in for particular ire.

The South African National Defence Force Chief (SANDF), General Rudzani Maphwanya, took aim at the media on Thursday, saying Open Secrets’ investigative exposé about a military squad allegedly responsible for acts of torture and murder could be construed as “an act of defeating the ends of justice”. 

Reading a one-page prepared statement, Maphwanya said the SANDF had noted the media reports making “alarming allegations about the existence of the so-called South African National Defence Force death squad, responsible for acts of kidnapping, torture and murder”. 

The SANDF considered the allegations “in the most serious light, as these fabrications have the potential to damage the image and reputation of the South African National Defence Force”, he said. 

“One would have expected that those who have such information, together with their sources, have the obligation to report such crime to law enforcement authorities.”  

The press conference follows the publication of Open Secrets’ Russian Doll investigation in Daily Maverick, as well as Carte Blanche and Open Secrets’ investigation into allegations of a torture squad within the SANDF, which aired on 3 December.  

Watch on Carte Blanche: SANDF Torture Squad 

Open Secrets’ investigative exposés detail allegations linking the SANDF Special Forces Brigade to the assassination of the Hawks’ Lieutenant-Colonel Frans Mathipa on 6 August 2023, the abduction of Ethiopian national Abdella Hussein Abadiga from the Mall of Africa in Midrand on 29 December 2022, and the alleged unlawful detention and torture of a former state intelligence operative, Pule Nkomo, between 21 and 26 March 2020

Read more in Daily Maverick:

Maphwanya said it was “rather concerning” that no formal charges had been laid against any of the persons or organisations implicated in the reports.  

“It is also concerning that the media houses and Open Secrets choose to withhold the information that can assist law enforcement agencies to investigate, and incongruously decided to publish it for whatever reason. This can be equated to a reprehensible motive or an act of defeating the end of justice,” he continued.  

“For the record, there are no military squads in the defence force that exist to carry out acts of torture and murder, for whatever reasons. The SANDF stands for the defence and the protection of the people and will always act within the confines of the law and the Constitution.” 

The board of inquiry

In its investigation, Open Secrets revealed an SANDF board of inquiry had been convened to investigate complaints of criminality within the military. The board of inquiry, it reported, was headed by Defence Intelligence Brigadier General John Moorhouse, and heard evidence of corruption and torture.  

The Moorhouse Inquiry wrapped up its hearings about six months ago, but, Open Secrets reported, its report seemed to be gathering dust on Maphwanya’s desk.  

On Thursday, the SANDF Chief of Defence Intelligence, Major General Thalita Mxakato, confirmed that a board of inquiry had been convened after the SANDF received the allegations. She said the final report was presented to Maphwanya in September.  

“In this particular case, Brigadier General Moorhouse was appointed as the president of the board, after the Chief had taken due consideration of the seriousness of the allegations that have been levelled against whoever was cited on the document that necessitated the institution of the board of inquiry (BOI),” Mxakato said.  

Mxakato said the allegations of torture were not the basis for the formation of the BOI, but couldn’t confirm such allegations were heard as testimony.

“To my recollection, the issues of torture and many other things that have been reported did not form the basis of the BOI. The BOI was instituted on the basis of allegations of corruption and cases that have not been concluded,” she said.

AfriForum’s Barry Bateman questioned Maphwanya’s initial reference to the allegations of torture and kidnapping as “fabrication”, when they were reported to the military police and a board of inquiry was subsequently convened. This showed the SANDF was aware of the allegations before they were published in the media, he said.  

Maphwanya did not respond to questions regarding the board of inquiry or why he was allegedly still sitting on its final report. The SANDF Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Michael Ramantswana, provided scant information on when Maphwanya would act, saying, “We will conclude the board of inquiry without any pressure from anybody.”  

‘We have not seen any action’ 

In Part Four of the Russian Doll investigation, Open Secrets revealed details of the allegedly unlawful detention and torture of Pule Nkomo, a former state intelligence operative, at the hands of the SANDF. Nkomo also shared details of his torture with Carte Blanche reporter Govan Whittles, and said that he continued to be intimidated by members of the security forces.  

In response to questions by journalists on Thursday, Maphwanya said he was “not aware” that the “whistle-blower was facing intimidation from the SANDF”. 

The director of Open Secrets, Hennie van Vuuren, said on Thursday that Nkomo had brought a claim of damages against the SANDF and “that information was submitted in court papers”.  

Commenting on the SANDF press conference, Van Vuuren said that while the military “berated us for fabricating information and … perhaps, criminally implicating ourselves and all the investigative journalists involved for not reporting this … that information has not only been reported to the SANDF, it has been reported to the Chief of the SANDF. 

“If this information is contained in the Moorhouse Board of Inquiry report, it is sitting on the desk of the Chief of the SANDF and he has simply not acted on it. 

“So efforts have been made to alert the SANDF — we have not seen any action,” he added.   

Van Vuuren said Open Secrets had on Thursday, written to President Cyril Ramaphosa to urgently intervene in the allegations of torture and extrajudicial killings by SANDF authorities. 

Operation of the Special Forces 

In Part One of the Russian Doll investigation, Open Secrets investigated the abduction of Ethiopian national Abdella Hussein Abadiga and his bodyguard from the Mall of Africa in Midrand on 29 December 2022. Abadiga was allegedly linked to the terrorist group Islamic State (Isis).  

Open Secrets’ investigation revealed that SANDF Special Forces Brigade members and vehicles registered to a SANDF-controlled front company — Peters Communications Trust (PCT) — were at the mall on the day of Abadiga’s abduction. 

However, the former head of the SANDF 5 Special Forces Regiment, Major General Herbert Dilebogo Mashego, claims the Special Forces operatives were undertaking a training exercise at the mall that day and were not involved in the abductions.  

The South African Special Forces Brigade is the equivalent of the British SAS or the US Navy Seals. According to law, the Special Forces Brigade is not allowed to operate within South African borders unless supporting a police operation which has been authorised by the President and subsequently approved by Parliament. 

But on Thursday, Maphwanya seemed to take a different view about the operation of Special Forces operatives inside the country.

“They are ready to be deployed by day or by night. There is no malice. If there is a requirement for them to be deployed — whether it is in South Africa … or the continent, Special Forces will be deployed according to [their] capabilities.” DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • suzanne80 says:

    Did anybody really think they would acknowledge it?

  • Quintus Nienaber Nienaber says:

    Ahh, the old “Look over here! Look over here!” tactic. Responding with indignation and veiled threats when the media holds those in power accountable. Not a good look General Rudzani Maphwanya.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    What more do South Africans have to endure? An incompetent president, stealing public officials, increasing crime rates and now an army that complements the picture of total dysfunctionality.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    And yet we still vote ANC into power over us with these specialised-SANDF-thugs who don’t exist as their secret weapons. Don’t talk about polls; recent by-elections have all favoured ANC. We deserve the crooks we vote for. Look what has happened this week in Umgeni, councillor murdered in full view of his family. Who has that kind of audacity.

  • mzamo206 says:

    The report is simply an extension of FF+ narratives about our democracy, we know what their intentions are and how our country would be like if it was up to them, and that they have no democratic values. The mainstream media in our country simply is an extension of the information scandal and it’s legacy, it is sleek and charming, but when you look close you realise how biased it is.

  • Alley Cat says:

    “One would have expected that those who have such information, together with their sources, have the obligation to report such crime to law enforcement authorities.” Smoke and mirrors, as per the reply from open secrets, this was done but as we all know, NOTHING will happen. This is more than scary! Just another example of how we are rapidly becoming a dictatorship.

  • david clegg clegg says:

    First, the statement that no squad ‘exists’, i.e. is formed with a purpose, to perform torture or murder does not mean that no squad is actually doing those things.
    Second, reporting such events to the relevant authorities, as one would do in an efficiently governed society, appears often to be fruitless in the ANC’s South Africa. A well publicised expose’ is justifiably seen as more likely to provoke an appropriate response (eventually).

  • Middle aged Mike says:

    “denies existence of military ‘death squad’”

    So it’s confirmed then.

    “One would have expected that those who have such information, together with their sources, have the obligation to report such crime to law enforcement authorities.”

    And again.

  • Ray Jones says:

    We watched all of Carte Blanche and have read most of the media news and we just don’t believe the SANDF. It’s just another ANC Government Mafia squad, doing the dirty work for the Corrupt.

  • Geoff Coles says:

    Maybe it’s not called a Death Squad, or is attached to State Security or something.

  • Harry Boyle says:

    “The SANDF considered the allegations “in the most serious light, as these fabrications have the potential to damage the image and reputation of the South African National Defence Force”, he said. ” Image and Reputation cannot be further damaged than it already is!

  • Willem Nel says:

    Vlakplaas deja vu

  • Marcus Struik says:

    Scary…

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    [This enquiry will] “damage the image and reputation of the South African National Defence Force”

    Why? If our defense force is able to clearly demonstrate the reports have no basis, then surely our military will then be seen to be of a high quality and above reproach.

    General Maphwanya, you should welcome such enquiries and play your hand with open cards. Deflection and emotive statements are what do not reflect well.

  • Alastair Sellick says:

    Wow.

    The more things change in South Africa, the more they do appear to remain the same. #Apartheid #NewSouthAfrica #NotSoNewSouthAfrica

    Shame on you, SANDF.
    Shame on you, Lieutenant General Maphwanya.
    Shame on you, President Ramaphosa.

    #SaveSouthAfrica

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