Guest Column

Rogue cops, rifts and 'dark forces' - the state of SA's policing

2017-11-08 15:44
Police Minister Fikile Mbalula. (Deaan Vivier, Gallo Images)

Police Minister Fikile Mbalula. (Deaan Vivier, Gallo Images)

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Caryn Dolley

South Africa's police and security players seem hell-bent on exposing some truth that they're foisting into public view. Or they are intent on tripping each other up.

It's state versus state, 'there's only room for one sheriff in this town' type action.

Either way, a bigger picture is emerging.

Police Minister Fikile Mbalula has acknowledged that tensions within the police are a problem.

For months he has been speaking out about "rogue" elements among the country's cops and crime intelligence officers.

In September he warned the crime intelligence unit that he was going after rogue aspects within it.

That same month he said that 33 firearms, stolen from two Cape Town police stations, had likely been sold by cops to gangsters.

Some of this information about the firearms was initially leaked to the media before it was officially confirmed.

On Tuesday, during a media conference Mbalula urged journalists to be careful of "information peddlers in the security environment" and to question why secret information was being leaked.

- Read more: Mbalula says 'rogue' intelligence units trying to discredit him 

"It is disappointing to your profession when journalists are openly being used as tools by dark and rogue forces within the police who often are busy with political agendas," he said.

This was in apparent reference to an Eyewitness News article published on Monday saying that, based on meeting records and confidential information notes, it appeared Mbalula had effectively taken control of crime intelligence.

It was also in apparent reference to a News24 article, based on a leaked photograph of Mbalula and officers who, for their own security should apparently not have been photographed, and who some sources insist are crime intelligence officers who work with him.

- Read more: Leaked photo makes Mbalula crime intelligence matter murkier

Mbalula is correct in saying the leaking of secret information should be questioned.

Two key and basic questions should be - Who has provided this information? Why have they done so?

The potential reasons as to why information is provided should never be overlooked.

But another aspect that should not be overlooked is the bigger picture.

These particular information leaks about policing come at a critical time - days within the State Security Agency issuing investigative journalist Jacques Pauw and his publisher with a cease and desist letter over revelations in his new book The President's Keepers.

The agency claims revelations in the book are in violation of the Intelligence Services Act and has demanded the book be withdrawn from stores and certain parts contained in it be retracted.

This can be viewed as an attempt to stifle information.

Therefore, on this backdrop, the leaking of information could be seen as a critical means of exposing certain happenings.

The leaking of confidential information from within the ranks of the security environment hints at unfathomably deep problems - mistrust and agendas (personal, in the interest of the public or otherwise).

Mistrust and agendas undoubtedly affect crime fighting - the core of what police are tasked with doing.

In News24's article on Monday about the leaked photograph, it was stated that the leak hinted at a much broader problem and that through looking into two key investigations - underworld activities and the smuggling of police firearms to criminals - it was established there is deep mistrust between Hawks, police and crime intelligence officers.

News24 has established that various tiers of policing are investigating underworld activities.

But not all those involved see eye-to-eye.

This may mean an overall investigation is fragmented. That information may not be shared due to mistrust.

A bigger picture could therefore be overlooked.

This is a serious problem.

It's a problem that cropped up in South Africa's biggest ever illicit firearm smuggling investigation - Project Impi.

It was launched in December 2013 by Western Cape police officers Major-General Jeremy Vearey and Major-General Peter Jacobs.

But they have said it disintegrated when they were suddenly transferred within the police in June 2016.

They said they were uncovering corruption within police ranks and that their transfers, which became the focus of a Labour Court battle (again police versus police), prevented certain arrests from being carried out.

Details of Project Impi were revealed through Vearey and Jacobs's affidavits in the matter.

About 1 200 of the guns identified through the project are believed to still be in circulation on the streets.

During Tuesday's press conference Mbalula said the police ministry respected the media.

- See the Live Update here.

He cautioned journalists: "Your work is dangerous to yourselves as you probe the powerful amongst us."

This is true. Pauw has received death threats since the release of his book. This journalist received a death threat relating to articles about the country's mammoth gun smuggling investigation.

But Mbalula's warning should perhaps extend to the police and those in the security arena, especially those who for whatever reason are investigating their own colleagues.

For it is these state-on-state investigations which seem to be most dangerous.

Mbalula has rightfully warned about information leaks and agendas, but let us not overlook the bigger picture.

If it weren't for information leaks and friction within some spheres, which eventually boils over into the public domain, we would never know how deep rooted some problems within the state are.

To use Mbalula's own words, which he used in reference to journalists, it is also "disappointing" when it emerges that people in positions of authority "are openly being used as tools by dark and rogue forces".

- Caryn Dolley is an investigative journalist at News24 in Cape Town.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    police  |  saps  |  fikile mbalula  |  underworld  |  crime


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