JOHANNESBURG – The men and women responsible for protecting South Africans, and ensuring justice for victims of crime, have had legal scandals of their own during this year.
Police minister, Nathi Nhleko grabbed headlines with his ill-fated attempt to justify non-security upgrades to President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla homestead.
That effort included his now-notorious bid to argue that a chicken run, cattle kraal and swimming pool, are all security features.
Nhleko said, “The sensors on the PIDS fence and motion detector beams are very sensitive to the extent that they are activated by free-running chicken. In this regard, the free-running chicken needed to be confined to a chicken run outside the high-security zone.”
Nhleko is again at the centre of several controversies, and legal sub-plots after being accused of pursuing political agendas in who he has appointed to, and then suspended, from various policing bodies.
Nhleko has been outspoken in his support of the Hawks, the police unit responsible for the failed, and current cases, against Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, former Hawks head, Anwa Dramat, DA MP, Glynnis Breytenbach and Ipid head, Robert McBride.
Berning Ntlemeza had his appointment as the Hawks boss challenged in court in December
Ntlemeza is a big player in many of the big court dramas that unfolded this year. He is seen as a close ally to President Jacob Zuma, and enjoys Nhleko’s full support.
It has also emerged that he played a major role in the aborted fraud case against Finance Minister Gordhan, and is pushing for prosecution of Gordhan and former SARS officials, Ivan Pillay and Oupa Magashula, in connection with the SARS investigative unit case.
National Director of Public Prosecutions, Shaun Abrahams was confident when he announced that the state would charge Gordhan, Pillay and Magashula over an early retirement package for Pillay.
Abrahams made an about turn later stating, “I am satisfied that Mr Magashula, Mr Pillay and Minister Gordhan did not have the requisite intention to act unlawfully. I am of the view that this matter could easily have been clarified if there had been proper engagement and cooperation between the Hawks and Mr Magashula, Mr Pillay and Minister Gordhan.”
After another two weeks had passed, Abrahams released letters between himself and Hawks boss, Ntlemeza, that painted a very different picture of what had gone wrong with the Gordhan case.
The letters were filed as part of Abrahams bid to fight claims that he was unfit to hold office and should be suspended, and face an inquiry.
In a letter sent the day before Abrahams withdrew the charges against Gordhan and his co-accused, Ntlemeza accuses the NPA boss of acting improperly by trying to stall the case.
Abrahams hit back by pointing out that only the NPA can decide if prosecutions should go ahead.
He then said something that suggested the Hawks may have deliberately withheld evidence that exonerated Gordhan, Pillay and Magashula.
“Speaking of good faith,” Abrahams writes, “kindly advise me how did it come about that the memorandum of Mr Symington, by way of example, only surfaced on 14 October 2016…”
The SARS deputy director of law, Vlok Symington signed-off on the 2009 memorandum mentioned by Abrahams in his letter to Ntlemeza that showed that Gordhan and his co-accused had sought legal advice on Pillay’s early retirement deal.
The memo stated that such early retirement was legal, and therefore sinking the case against the minister and his co-accused. When the memo came to light, the response by the Hawks was bizarre.
Symington alleges he was held hostage because Hawks investigators wanted to force him to hand over an email, showing that SARS’s own legal advisor believed that there was no case against Gordhan and his co-accused.
The Independent Police Investigative Directorate, led by Robert McBride, investigated the case, and recommended that the officers involved should be charged.
These officials are all involved in the case against Gordhan.
Nhleko suspended McBride in 2014, prompting a long legal battle that ended with the Constitutional Court ruling that the suspension was unlawful.
The Hawks also tried and failed to build a fraud case against McBride, based on Nhleko’s complaint against him.
McBride amended an Ipid report into the so-called illegal rendition of accused Zimbabwean criminals, exonerating former Hawks head, Anwa Dramat.
The Hawks and NPA went after Dramat anyway, and charged McBride with fraud. The case collapsed.
Nhleko hasn’t given up though he wanted Parliament to investigate McBride’s fitness to hold office. MPs were not convinced.
As Nhleko does his best to unseat McBride, the Ipid persists with another potentially explosive investigation.
The directorate is also probing claims that acting police commissioner, Khomotso Phahlane, used corrupt cash to bankroll renovations to his multimillion rand home. This, Phahlane categorically denies.
To make things even more complicated, the complainant in the corruption case against Phahlane is Paul O’Sullivan, the forensic consultant who first accused former national police commissioner, Jackie Selebi, of corruption. Selebi was convicted.
The Hawks arrested O’Sullivan for having more than one passport shortly after he accused Phahlane of corruption, but insist the two cases are not linked in any way.