In the navy, the knobkierie does the talking
Top naval officers allegedly in knobkierie skirmish over controversial report
The post-apartheid South African navy has yet to fire a shot in anger. The same cannot be said of top naval personnel, who are embroiled in yet another skirmish – allegedly involving a knobkierie.
Military police are investigating a charge of assault against the navy’s head of maritime strategy, David Mkhonto, who allegedly attacked one of his subordinates in his Simon’s Town office last year, it emerged last week.Mkhonto allegedly used his knobkerrie when confronting Lieutenant-Commander Sylvester Vulani Mangolele, technical and support and services manager of the navy’s systems support centre.
Documents in the possession of Times Select reveal Mangolele reported the assault to the chief of the Simon’s Town base in November but did not receive a reply. He then reported the matter to military police on February 26.“The member [Mangolele] wants to report a criminal case but this office is of the opinion that the matter can be dealt with [in a] disciplinary because of the time constraint in which the member reported the matter,” the military police said in an incident report.
Mangolele claims the personal feud stems from a fall-out over his controversial report into the state of the navy’s workshops. He says he has been victimised since submitting the report, which paints a bleak picture but has yet to be formally released.
He has since been hauled before a military tribunal for allegedly bunking duties and has been served with notice of possible suspension. He has also been served with an eviction notice to vacate his navy accommodation in Simon’s Town overlooking the navy base. Mkhonto is a witness in both legal matters.In a letter sent last week to Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Mangolele claimed he feared for his life and had been ostracised since finalising his report in August 2016. He said he simply goes to work “to mark a register”.
“This is the sad reality that many government employees are challenged with on a daily basis, and continuously have to bear and hide the humiliation that comes with such ostracism,” Mangolele said in his letter.But a well-placed source said Mangolele had a reputation as an “agitator who deflects all accusations”. He also questioned why Mangolele had taken several months to report the alleged assault – in February last year. “I can but say that I would be more likely than [Mkhonto] to do such a thing. But then one does get some really nasty and frustrating people who push too far. I would be surprised if [Mkhonto] did it,” he said.
It is not the first assault case to embarrass the navy. Three years ago two naval members were charged with assault after allegedly whipping several Cape Town cyclists with a sjambok out of their car window. It is unclear what happened to the case.
Naval discipline also came under the spotlight in a recent standoff between residents of Waterfall barracks and neighbouring Simon’s Town residents. Repeated complaints of excessive music and drunken behaviour prompted intervention from the military ombudsman.The military this week confirmed both the charges against Mangolele and Mkhonto. “The SANDF can confirm that a charge of assault [against Mkhonto] has been opened at the Military Police. All other matters related to this are under investigation.”
Mangolele said he had reported the incident immediately afterwards to his chief director but had not laid a formal charge at the time in the hope the matter would be resolved internally – which did not happen: “For me I did not want to take it forward in good faith.” He said Mkhonto had ignored him ever since.Last year, naval spokesman Sam Khasuli denied any link between Mangolele’s military tribunal and his report into the naval dockyard. “The alleged report has got no bearing on the case or charges he is currently facing. Furthermore, the alleged report was given to certain members within the SA navy which he wrote in his personal capacity and outside of the prescribed mandate of the SA navy.
“If the member feels aggrieved he is well aware about the processes at his disposal that he must exercise,” Khasuli said.
Mangolele last week questioned why he was under threat of suspension whereas Mkhonto had recently been promoted. He said he believed he was being persecuted for legitimately drawing attention to management failures within the SANDF.
“The Defence Review talks of ‘arresting the decline’ [of the defence force], but it seems they are declining the arrest,” Mangolele said.