Security agencies should be firewalled against meddling to fend off capture
The Zuma legacy remains entrenched and institutions are still vulnerable to political interference as SA is fertile ground for criminal networks
The testimony of former Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) head Robert McBride opened a new frontier at the Zondo commission that was hitherto unexplored.
The breakdown of the security institutions was a key component in facilitating and protecting state capture. This is responsible for the prevailing paralysis in the criminal justice system and the general culture of impunity in the country.
While a few witnesses have testified about how senior members of the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) plotted to sabotage and suppress investigations, McBride is the first person who served in a senior position in a security institution to give evidence.
McBride has merely scratched the surface in terms of the political interference in the security agencies, with his experiences as executive director of the police watchdog.
It took years of scheming and political manoeuvres to mould the Hawks, police crime intelligence, the State Security Agency and the NPA into instruments that were fully compliant to the political elite and served the state capture networks dutifully.
The general lack of confidence in the SA Police Service and the fact that so many people opt not to report crime is due to the erosion of credibility of key units such the Hawks and crime intelligence.
It still has to be probed how former police minister Nathi Mthethwa installed Richard Mdluli into the position of the head of crime intelligence. Under Mdluli, police crime intelligence became vital to former president Jacob Zuma’s political apparatus, and covert funds were looted and misused.
Former acting national police commissioner Tim Williams said in an interview in 2011 that Mdluli’s appointment process was “completely unusual” and “not regular”.
Williams said a panel of four ministers, led by Mthethwa, hijacked the appointment process. The other ministers were then state security minister Siyabonga Cwele, Malusi Gigaba, who was at the time deputy minister of home affairs, and Susan Shabangu, then Mthethwa’s deputy.
They will all hopefully be called before Judge Raymond Zondo to explain why they circumvented normal procedures to appoint Mdluli.
McBride’s evidence implicates another one of the political players, Mthethwa’s successor Nkosinathi Nhleko, in the mission to remove former Hawks bosses Anwa Dramat and Shadrack Sibiya from their positions.
At the time, Dramat had taken over sensitive investigations, including the criminality involved in the security upgrades at Zuma’s Nkandla home.
The removals of Dramat and Sibiya were deliberate and timeous to, among other things, stop any pursuit of the Nkandla case and to keep their prying eyes away from the Guptas.
Getting rid of them involved implicating them in an elaborate conspiracy around the illegal renditions of Zimbabweans.
When Ipid saw through the plot and exonerated Dramat and Sibiya, McBride then became a political target with Nhleko using the law firm Werksmans to make a case for defeating the ends of justice.
McBride, lead investigator Innocent Khuba and Matthew Sesoko, Ipid’s national head of investigations, were charged for doctoring a report into the alleged rendition, but the charges were later withdrawn.
Nhleko and the powers behind him miscalculated McBride’s rigidness when it comes to legal and constitutional matters.
McBride testified on Monday how he used his own money to challenge the minister all the way to the Constitutional Court to affirm Ipid’s independence – and was vindicated.
But Nhleko had scored another victory by appointing one of the jewels in the state capture crown, Mthandazo Berning Ntlemeza, in the place of Dramat – first in an acting capacity and then permanently.
By the time the high court declared Ntlemeza’s appointment “unlawful and invalid”, he had completely diseased the Hawks and turned it not only into a protection racket but a hit squad targeting the resisters of state capture.
The attempts to charge Pravin Gordhan, Ivan Pillay, McBride and Dramat were part of the targeted attacks on key state institutions, the national treasury, the SA Revenue Service, Ipid and the Hawks.
But it went further.
Under Ntlemeza, the Hawks worked to sabotage high-priority cases and erode the rule of law.
It took real audacity and contempt for the law for the head of the Hawk’s anti-corruption unit, Zinhle Mnonopi, to present a false statement to former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas, in the presence of his lawyer, in order to “kill” a corruption investigation against the Guptas and Duduzane Zuma.
Through McBride, Khuba, Sesoko and Dramat’s evidence, the Zondo commission will probably be able to “join the dots” from Nhleko’s actions to the repurposing of the Hawks into a political weapon in the state capture arsenal.
The appointment of General Godfrey Lebeya as the head of the Hawks in May 2018 was welcomed as a positive move in the fight against priority crimes and state capture. Lebeya is an advocate and has a doctorate in criminal law, and was previously a deputy national commissioner.
But the Hawks have not been able to shed the image of incompetence as they are still unable to present solid high-priority cases for prosecution. This appears to be due to the legacy of Ntlemeza and the cohort of inept and compromised people he appointed throughout the unit.
Hopefully, police minister Bheki Cele is not following in the footsteps of his predecessors and interfering in Lebeya’s work.
Cele’s flouting of procedures and lobbying of parliament’s police portfolio committee to ensure that McBride’s contract was not renewed does not inspire confidence that he understands the ambit of his powers and the necessary independence of institutions.
Cele and McBride are still to face off in court in this matter.
From the previous experiences at crime intelligence and the Hawks, political interference is a slippery slope that leads to the general failure and paralysis of the police.
There is still a long journey to travel to trace the extent of the rot in the security services.
The perception among some South Africans that state capture has been tackled and we are now in a process of recovery following the ejection of key enablers in government and the flight of the Guptas, is simply not true.
The legacy of state capture remains entrenched and institutions remain vulnerable to political interference.
The worry is that while there is some recognition in society of the devastation caused to institutions, there is still failure to appreciate the nexus between the power play of the former president and his ministers to the resultant corruption, as well the protection of criminals.
SA remains a safe haven for high rollers in criminal networks because there is always someone with a hotline to a politician with influence.
While the process of purging institutions of compromised and captured officials continues, the politicians who created the crisis are still in circulation. Because they have not been held to account, many will return to parliament and cabinet.
It seems that little can be done to clean out the rot in politics.
Therefore, the focus of society should be on fire-walling institutions to safeguard them from political interference and the sinister motives that drive it.