A "matrix of corruption" that is the "biggest threat to national security". This is how Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) head Robert McBride described the police's highest level, bar a "few exceptions", when he appeared before the Portfolio Committee on Police on Thursday morning.
McBride said the police were hampering IPID's investigations by classifying or refusing to declassify documents.
This related to IPID's investigations, such as how it happened that Morris "KGB" Tshabalala was reappointed despite having a criminal record, and how the police procured a device known as a grabber shortly before the ANC's conference in December, in what is believed to have been a ploy to launder money to buy votes.
"The confidence we expressed in [police commissioner] General [Khehla] Sitole eroded tremendously," said McBride.
He said the fact that they had whistleblowers, was an indication that there were good police officers.
IPID told Parliament's Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) earlier this year that they were investigating the purchase of a grabber - a device to track cellphones, worth around R10m – at an inflated price of around R50m. It is alleged the money was to be used to buy votes at the ANC's hotly contested elective conference.
On Thursday, McBride said former police minister Fikile Mbalula's advisor, Bo Mbindwane, had attended four meetings in relation to the procurement of the grabber. Mbindwane denied the allegations earlier this year.
'People are occupied with stealing'
Mbalula, a staunch campaigner for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, was well known for defending former president Jacob Zuma on Twitter.
McBride said they had records from a senior police officer on why they needed the grabber, which he described as "gobbledygook" and a "suck out of [their] thumbs".
He said the police's crime intelligence unit was having a go at IPID because of Mbindwane's involvement.
"SAPS functions at the highest level, with a few exceptions, as a matrix of corruption," he said.
McBride said this was the biggest threat to the country's national security, as it meant they couldn't fight crime.
"People are occupied with stealing."
He said, apart from the classification of documents, there were also attempts to bribe IPID investigators to admit that they had been instructed to work with private investigator Paul O'Sullivan.
"That would amount in their little minds to racketeering," McBride said. IPID hadn't engaged O'Sullivan in months, he added.
He said this narrative had originated from former acting police commissioner Khomotso Phahlane, who has since been charged with fraud, money laundering and corruption.
Police use classification 'to protect criminality'
IPID head of Investigations Matthew Sesoko said they had informers in the police who had told them about the appointment of Tshabalala, despite previously being dismissed from the police because of a criminal record.
Sesoko said, according to their information, Tshabalala used to brag that he was protected by police management and political connections.
"Here's what's funny," said Sesoko, "we want his personal file to see how he's been enlisted. Now, that file is not coming through. The answer we got is it is classified."
"Ag!" exclaimed DA MP Dianne Kohler Barnard. "They're lying."
Seskoko said that file had nothing to do with state security.
"Classification is used to protect criminality in SAPS," he said.
He said they had asked the minister of police to intervene, and that another recourse would be litigation.
Seskoko said there were two cases of obstruction of justice against Phahlane, and one against Phahlane and others, but the National Prosecuting Authority had decided not to prosecute. He said they found the decision irrational and were taking legal advice on reviewing the decision.
Committee chairperson Francois Beukman said it was important to point out that IPID was a constitutional body set up to oversee the police, and that the police should cooperate.