Cape Town – Mayor Patricia de Lille has clipped the wings of the City of Cape Town’s special investigations unit (SIU) by ordering that it be shut down, a move which has unearthed shocking claims that some city councillors may have been involved in a murder.
These claims, as well as rumours of alleged irregularities relating to building work done at De Lille’s home, are contained in a document from a city official.
Email correspondence between members of the city also hint at divisions within the Democratic Alliance (DA) in the Western Cape.
Next week, a committee established by the DA federal executive is expected to start discussing De Lille’s order that the SIU be shut down, as well as other tensions in the party.
This SIU is a different entity from the national Special Investigating Unit.
This SIU is under the leadership of Cape Town mayoral committee member for safety, security and social services, JP Smith.
The mandate of this SIU, which for about four years was involved in high-level probes, some involving other international law enforcement agencies, was changed in August after De Lille instructed that it be shut down.
De Lille has not confirmed to News24 that she gave this order, however News24 has emails showing she did.
'Shut it down'
One, dated August 1, is from De Lille’s chief of staff to the city manager.
It reads: "The mayor kindly requests written confirmation that the SIU has been shut down. If it has not been shut down yet, she would like to know why this is the case."
A memorandum from the city manager, dated August 4, said the unit’s mandate had been clarified and its name changed.
De Lille’s office this week asked that News24 rely on answers to questions on the matter provided by another city executive.
The SIU was created about four years ago.
Among other matters, members probed gang violence, xenophobic attacks, corruption within the city council if a specific department requested this, as well as illegal protests and wildfires linked to arson.
However, they are now no longer allowed to conduct these investigations.
This week Smith declined to comment on the matter, as it was set to be discussed next week within the DA.
However, News24 has in its possession a submission from Smith, dated August 20 and addressed to among others, DA leader Mmusi Maimane about his worries about the narrowing of the SIU’s functions.
In it, Smith said he tried to find out if there was a reason given for wanting to shut down the unit.
Claims of dodgy dealings, murder, irregularities
He said his "first instincts" were that it could be due to claims by a councillor relating to an apparent police investigation into alleged dubious dealings with a company by city employees.
Smith said in the submission that it was also suggested to him that it may have to do with the murder of DA ward councillor Xolile Gwangxu, who was shot dead in Philippi East in June.
"According to SIU members… their investigation had turned up rumours of the possible involvement of councillors in the death of Cllr Gwangxu, but that nothing had been proven."
He said another possible reason was that some members of the SIU had previously been in the VIP unit.
"These were all persons who had previously worked in investigations in SAPS or had had detective training while in VIP," Smith said in his submission.
"The head informed me that members of the unit had mentioned to him that they had witnessed irregularities in relation to the mayor, e.g. that building work outside of the security policy of the city had been undertaken at her home at the expense of council."
Smith said he had never before heard of these allegations.
"It is possible that she had become suspicious or mistrusting of the SIU due to possible comments made or gossip in relation to such statements made by former VIP unit members and that this may have shaped her view of the SIU," his submission said.
This week, while the city said the unit was still functioning well, sources said it had been stripped to the minimum and had lost its teeth.
Its name had also changed from "special investigations unit" to "safety and security internal investigations unit".
This name change, sources said, hinted at the restrictions placed on the unit as a result of the mandate change.
According to the city, members of the unit investigate serious misconduct matters as well as allegations of fraud and corruption by city staff within the safety and security directorate.
But previously members were involved in a range of external investigations, including into gang and drug lords, stolen firearms, murders of councillors and poaching.
It also probed syndicates, including fraudulent car licensing operations.
However, it was no longer allowed to do these external investigations, which apparently shadowed police probes in order to assist the police.
Smith’s submission said shutting down the SIU was not in the interest of the public.
"To claim that the SIU is not allowed to run the investigations they have been doing for years, would mean that all other specialist units should stop," he said.
Smith likened what was happening with the SIU to the same test the ANC faced when shutting down the Scorpions.
"If we have nothing to hide we should have no fear," he said in the submission.
'Tensions within the caucus'
On Thursday, DA federal council chairperson James Selfe told News24 the federal executive had set up a committee to investigate several aspects, "specifically tensions within its caucus".
"There are always different points of view in any organisation. The purpose of the committee is to resolve this," he said.
Selfe said the changing of the special investigations unit’s mandate would be discussed, however, it would be seen if the committee was mandated to deal with this matter.
The committee would sit next week and was not clear how long discussions would take.
This week News24 sent a list of questions, including whether De Lille had indeed instructed that the unit be shut down and why she had done so, to her office.
However, a response to similar questions by News24 was provided by the city's executive director for safety and security, Richard Bosman.
De Lille’s office said this response from Bosman covered the questions sent to her.
Bosman confirmed the special investigations unit had undergone a shift.
"The mandate of the unit was clarified and consolidated early in August," he said.
"The mandate for the investigation and detection of crime rests with the South African Police Service (SAPS) in terms of the SAPS Act."
Bosman said staff within the safety and security’s internal investigations unit had the powers of "peace officers", as defined by the Criminal Procedures Act.
This, he said, meant they were confined to act according to what a notice from the Minister of Justice outlined.
Bosman said the unit was still "of great assistance" in resolving internal matters which were referred to it.
"The same staff remain in the unit and can investigate fraud and corruption allegations against staff within the Safety and Security Directorate," he said.
"As an integral part of the safety and security directorate, this unit may also assist with such activities in council rental stock and also assist with operations conducted by our gang and drugs task team."
Information received by the unit, according to Bosman, had always been passed on to police and this would continue happening.
Political shake-ups and probes 'for personal gain'
The decision to change the special investigations unit’s mandate does not mark the first time De Lille has been viewed as making a controversial decision relating to the ANC.
In 2016, former ANC councillor Loyiso Nkohla joined the DA, a move frowned upon by some in the DA, and is now said to be very close to De Lille.
De Lille’s decision about the SIU has, according to some, played into the hands of the ANC.
Sources within the Western Cape ANC say they believe Smith was using the city’s special investigations unit and the Metro Police for personal gain – to gather information to be used against those he is against, or who are against him, within the DA – instead of to fight crime.
ANC Western Cape secretary general Faiez Jacobs told News24 this week that he viewed the mandate change of the unit as a positive.
"Cowboy JP Smith’s wings have been cut because he was running his own unconstitutional information gathering service," he said.
However, sources denied this.
One told News24 the unit had not been involved in investigations against councillors, but was once approached by the Hawks about a related probe.
Metro Police officers, according to the source, did not conduct investigations.