When Advocate Vusi Pikoli assumed office as the National Director of Public Prosecutions in 2005 he was handed a poisoned chalice in the form of Directorate of Special Operations (DSO), popularly known as the Scorpions. From excerpts from his recent book My Second Initiation published in the media he does not seem to have understood the nature of the beast he was burdened with. Nor does he seem to have done the necessary follow up after being warned about security breaches – not only by the then national SAPS commissioner, Selebi (then under investigation by the DSO) but also by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA). As a consequence he shows no insight into the lack of co-operation he received from Selebi when the Directorate required documents from the police. Nor did he take heed of the cautions urged by the minister to whom he was responsible and the executive arm of government in expediting the Selebi prosecution without considering possible implications of his arrest for national security. While expressing admiration for the Scorpions, Pikoli’s reported reference to Selebi as an ‘evil’ man is a gross exaggeration. Selebi is a tragic figure , whose arrogance, foolishness and venality – including his failure to discern a serious conflict of interest in his dealings with convicted drug trafficker Glen Agliotti = led to his downfall. However, despite Pikoli’s stated intentions, the organized crime godfathers who had snared Selebi escaped scot free.
PUTTING THE ‘BAD GUYS’ INVESTIGATIONS IN CONTEXT
It was apparently during a project by DSO termed ‘Bad Guys’ which investigated, among other things, the killing of mining magnate and ANC benefactor Brett Kebble in 2005 , that the national commissioner refused to hand over certain documentation to the investigators. Previous reports by KZN Monitor have detailed the serious problems with the DSO – including the inclusion of former apartheid security police members and old guard prosecutors in the unit, its use of highly suspect private security companies for sensitive operations, and its alleged links with foreign intelligence agencies. Examples of its modus operandi, especially its selective leaks to the media during investigations, are given in these previous reports. Its ‘trial by media’ continued with the Selebi case, prior to his arraignment in court after his arrest in September 2007. Those in the unit who had been apartheid operatives would, of course, have been highly skilled in the art of disinformation and propaganda.
Selebi’s loathing of the Scorpions, and the fact that he had made no secret of his determination to re-incorporate investigators into the police, dates back to their malicious prosecution of two outstanding black members of the SAPS just after Selebi took office in 1999 – Director Eric Nkabinde and Captain Sipho Mbele. Nkabinde was then the most senior detective in the province, and Mbele, as head of the team investigating the violence in Richmond, had made stunning progress which, had he been allowed to proceed, would probably have exposed those behind the violence there. These investigations were taken over by the precursor of the Scorpions (IDOC), and Mbele’s work was sabotaged. There are a number of unanswered questions about this turn of events – the removal of a highly successful team(whose work had been praised in the national parliament) and the handing of the dockets to IDOC, whose mandate was not supposed to include political violence. What does seem clear, however, is that it was not opposed by ANC leadership in the province which may have even encouraged it (since appeals to ANC leadership at that time fell upon deaf ears). In fact, one member of the provincial executive had made it clear, before the prosecution, that Nkabinde should take a post in another province.
\The targeting of these two police members was iniquitous, and enraged Selebi. At the time of his arrest Nkabinde was poised to become head of detectives in the province – but his arrest put an end to that. Policing in the province is likely to have been very different – and vastly improved – had he been appointed to that post. The position went to an Old Guard policeman whose conduct, post 1994, did not demonstrate support transformation of the apartheid force. Nor was he as competent as Nkabinde. As a consequence, detective services continued to deteriorate.
Both Nkabinde and Mbele had distinguished careers. It was a team led by Nkabinde (then branch commander at KwaDabeka station) which built a successful case against Samuel Jamile, a member of the KwaZulu Bantustan executive, who was subsequently found guilty of murdering leading United Democratic Front (UDF – desribed as the internal wing of the ANC) supporters in Clermont, near Pinetown, who were opposing the incorporation of the township into KwaZulu.
However, Nkabinde’s detectives were threatened with death so the docket was handed to credible investigators from outside of the area – (then) Captain Frank Dutton (later to head Goldstone and Investigative Task Unit Team investigations) and his partner Warrant Officer Wilson Maghadla. It was they who took the case to court and secured a conviction.
Mbele, then the most senior black detective at Amazimtoti police station near Durban had been the initial investigating officer in the notorious KwaMakhuta massacre case in 1987, when family members of a prominent UDF (United Democratic Front) supporter in the township, Victor Ntuli, were massacred by Inkatha supporters trained by the South African army in the Caprivi. When Mbele made arrests the docket was taken away from him and given to the security police. He himself was harassed and threatened with death for this and other politically-sensitive matters he investigated without fear or favour.
Although totally exonerated of the malicious charges brought by the Scorpions, the outstanding contributions of these two police members were lost to the province : Nkabinde was promoted to the post of provincial Commissioner, Mpumalanga province, and Mbele, totally disillusioned with the lack of transformation in the police, took early retirement.
In the intervening years, between the acquittal of Nkabinde and Mbele in 2000 and the exchanges between Pikoli and Selebi in 2007 – no action whatsoever had been taken against the Scorpions prosecutor behind this malicious prosecution, Chris MacAdam – despite his having, subsequent to the Nkabinde and Mbele matter, contradicted himself under oath in another malicious prosecution, that of magistrate Ashin Singh, There is no indication that he has ever faced any disciplinary action and, according to recent unconfirmed reports, he now heads an ominously named component of the NPA dealing with crimes against the state, despite his obviously not being a fit and proper person to occupy such a position. The failure to act against someone who is clearly unsuited for a prosecutorial role blights the credibility of the DSO – and the NPA. .
SELEBI : PRIDE BEFORE THE FALL
While there were justifiable concerns that the prosecution of Selebi might also have been malicious his trial, and the judgment against him, showed that the DSO case was indeed strong enough to convict him. His own poor performance in the witness stand can have done nothing to support his plea of innocence, especially as he was forced to admit that he had lied about a showing a secret document – which he had had de-classified – to Glen Agliotti.
Prior to his appointment as national commissioner Selebi had been admired internationally for his engagement in issues relating to human rights. However, as in other such placements in former apartheid structures (such as the National Intelligence Agency) his appointment to a key – and untransformed – apartheid bureaucracy would not have been welcomed by many persons on whom he had to rely. While apparently winning his confidence some of these members showed, by their own conduct, that they were set in their old ways. For example, when, in 2002, Supt N, a senior black member in KZN was sidelined on racial grounds for appointment to head a Public Order Policing Unit in the province – despite being eminently qualified for the position – he appealed nationally, to Selebi. Selebi was sympathetic but, correctly (in this instance) delegated the matter to a deputy for attention. Not only was the deputy rude and unsympathetic towards Supt N but he also refused – despite various follow up letters – to return to him a dossier of letters of commendation he had earned for his policing skills in violence torn areas. Co-incidentally this deputy had been a former (supposedly reformed) member of the apartheid security police. He was perceived to be very close to Selebi. Selebi would also have been let down by some of his former comrades who were, like him, integrated into the SAPS without having the necessary capacity for their jobs. Generally speaking, those integrated into the SAPS failed to understand the nature of the policing bureaucracy which, by the end of the 1990s, remained untransformed (a summarized version of a 1999 report ‘The More Things Change – Policing in the New South Africa’ will be available on the Monitor website in 2014).
Central to the case against Selebi was his dealings with Glen Agliotti. He should never, as national commissioner, have been dealing with crime intelligence matters himself but should, as in the matter of Supt N, have delegated the investigations relating to Agliotti and his cohorts to the police’s Crime Intelligence component. His admission that Agliotti was a ‘friend, finished and klaar’ was a damning indictment of his lack of the sense of propriety required of a man in his position – a position which demanded that he maintained a social distance from known criminals. Did he not know that one is known by the friends one keeps?
Having antagonized the powerful and devious Scorpions, and anti-transformation sectors within the police, he was asking for trouble – which he got. In his evidence Advocate Lawrence Mrwebi (a former Scorpions head) argued that the Scorpions had gunned for him, as did former NPA member Prince Mokoledi (who also made serious allegations about NPA members admired by Pikoli) Through his own foolishness and weakness he seems to have walked straight into the trap which was set for him (which is not to condone his actions).
THE REAL WINNERS
Promotional blurbs around Pikoli’s book paint him as a hero who has stood up to a conspiracy against him and won. That is an oversimplification : While the Ginwala Commission which was appointed to assess his fitness to hold office following his suspension found that since the government had not substantiated the reasons it had given for his suspension he should be re-instated. Its findings were, however, critical of him in a number of ways, especially relating to national security issues. As a result of lack of awareness of the broader sensitivities of his office, he needed to enhance his understanding of the security environment in which his office functioned. He had, for example, failed to ensure that all DSO investigators had security clearances and that these were regularly renewed
He was found to show a ‘lack of understanding of his responsibilities ‘to operate within a strict security environment and to ensure that the NPA and the DSO operate in a manner that takes into account the community interest and does not compromise national security’ Also noted was the lack of accountability shown by the DSO to him as the NPA head.
While Selebi has paid the price of his own foolishness there is no indication that organized crime networks linked to Agliotti et al have been neutralized. Ironically, while Selebi’s conviction ended his career in both the police and in Interpol, at least one former member of SANAB, the narcotics arm of apartheid policing whose members moved between that and the security police arm – which was itself linked to drug-related organized crime and the apartheid regime’s chemical warfare programme – is now with Interpol.
Pikoli bemoans the fact that Agliotti and his cohorts walked free which, he emphasizes, had not been the intention. However, he places the blame for this turn of events on his successor, Advocate Menzi Simelani, who removed the ‘Bad Guys’ prosecutor from the case.
In 2011 Stanley Poonin and Stefanos Paparus, accused by Agliotti of trafficking in drugs work R250 million, were acquitted amidst allegations that the state had ‘bungled’ the case.
A recent report by the South African Anti-Drug Alliance, arguing for a re-think on drug policy, including legalization and regulation, points out that despite massive expenditure in its ‘war against drugs’ the conviction rate for drug dealing is woefully low. Most of the convictions are for cannabis (dagga) which grows like a weed in KZN and other parts of South Africa. Cannabis, despite being illegal, is grown legally by the pharmaceutical industry which makes a fortune out of its key ingredient, dronabinol, in expensive drugs used for, among other serious illnesses, HIV and cancer. In the mean time, extremely destructive drugs are traded openly in townships and middle class areas of Durban, amidst well substantiated allegations of complicity on the part of the police.
So the Scorpions, under the de jure (if not de facto) control of Pikoli made no more progress in dealing with serious organized crime
than it had under his predecessors.
However, this unit should never have been dismantled (in what was clearly a political move) – when all that was needed for a re-structuring, with all staff having to re-apply for their positions, and being subject to rigid security checks to eradicate former apartheid era operatives. Pikoli seems to have been in no haste to implement the recommendations of the Khampephe Commission – which were ignored following the change of political guard in 2009 when, ironically, Selebi’s goal of re-integrating investigators back into the police was realized.
1.Regarding the role of Samuel Jamile in the killings in Clermont see TRC Volume 3, pages 227-228
2.Details of the KwaMakhuta massacre, and the trial of General Magnus Malan, in TRC Report Volume 3 pp 220-223.
3.Report of the Enquiry into the Fitness of Advocate V P Pikoli to hold Office (Ginwala Commission report) at http://www.info.gov.za
4.‘At What Cost : The Futility of the War on Drugs in South Africa’ by Quinton van Kerken Anti-Drug Alliance (available on web)