Claims of nepotism, tribalism, victimisation and abuse of power have emerged in the Special Task Force
The Special Task Force (STF), South Africa’s elite police unit, is allegedly on the brink of collapse, according to inside sources.
They told City Press that the unit that handles high-risk operations has been facing serious challenges since 2012, after the removal of former head Brigadier Johann Fritz.
Insiders alleged Fritz’s removal provided an opportunity for the elite unit to transform.
But, according to an STF source, after campaigning for the removal of Fritz, “we took ourselves from the frying pan straight into the fire”.
Another source stated: “Now we are dealing with a mob of gangsters who think they are untouchable.”
Claims of nepotism, tribalism, victimisation and abuse of power have since emerged in the unit, with minister after minister failing to take any action.
Complaints in letters to national commissioners, Police Minister Bheki Cele and his predecessor Fikile Mbalula, which City Press has seen, have not yet been addressed.
In a letter written to former national commissioner Riah Phiyega in 2013, STF members cried foul, highlighting the deteriorating situation at the unit.
While conceding that Fritz did a great job as unit leader, “we acknowledge that the vision and leadership came from the office of the section head, Lieutenant General [Nhlanhla] Mkhwanazi”.
The letter goes on to insinuate that when Mkhwanazi left in 2013 things became worse.
“The STF went political and it became a KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) force. If you were not from there you were sidelined,” alleged the source.
“It’s a cabal; all the section heads of STF are from KZN and are ruthless. We call them Iinkabi zaseThekwini.”
Members of the task force made allegations of scarce skills resources and remuneration, low morale, no training, no promotions and unit standards.
In an unfair labour practice case of South African Police Service v Sotheni and Others, which had begun in 2015, the judgment on March 4 2020 found that the police’s failure to give STF backpay for scarce skills remuneration was correct.
The judgment further states that the state will recuperate the monies from those unit members who were paid by “mistake”.
“We took the state to court because we felt, as the unit, we were not equal,” said Matiphandile Sotheni, who has since quit the unit. According to the scarce skills policy, the moment you do not perform scarce skills the allowance ceases to exist, alleged Sotheni.
“But if you go to STF training offices you will be surprised with the number of officers doing nothing and some retired still getting scarce allowance.”
Another source told City Press that the judgment was the direct opposite of a confidential audit conducted by Brigadier MC Masupha in 2015 for the police service management, which recommended that the remuneration for scarce allowance at STF be implemented especially to unit members from 2004 to 2014.
Nepotism and renumeration
The accusation of under par leadership at STF is merely directed at one brigadier who was the head of numerous units at the Special Task Force.
The brigadier is alleged to have been parachuted to this position.
“We served on the Special Task Force together as warrant officers and, within a short space of time, he was promoted to being a brigadier,” says the source, who became a STF member in 2008.
An investigation was conducted by Major General Mark Henkel on the task force, after various complaints from unit members.
“This investigation was done on the instruction of National Commissioner Khehla Sithole in 2018 and up until now all unit members have never been reported the findings,” says one of the sources.
Again in 2018 another investigation was conducted by Brigadier Dalindyebo Bout which allegedly pointed fingers at the brigadier for insubordination, but its findings were also never released.
Part of the investigation focused on the directives from the brigadier issued in 2018, between January and May, in which he allegedly issued a directive that grounded all STF members and instructed them not to engage with any cash-in-transit heists.
“At one stage a cash-in-transit was about 2km from the base of STF in Pretoria West and in another incident in Mpumalanga. The STF was requested and they never arrived as per the directive of its section head.”
It is alleged the brigadier has since been harassing, abusing and victimising unit members and encouraging them to retire.
“Many have resigned, a lot are on their way out and some are on suspension, while others are really scared to talk. We have talked to everyone from our commandos to the national commissioner and ministers,” said the source.
The source insinuated that, while they were arresting and harassing people on the streets to conform with the Disaster Management Act, they themselves allegedly didn’t conform to all these rules.
“We are busy training members in the bush as we speak – [Covid-19] corona or no corona. We had members fly from Cape Town without preconditions such as testing or quarantine. No one cares,” says one of the witnesses.
Lieutenant General Elias Mawela, who is now the provincial commissioner in Gauteng, refused to be drawn into the debacle and only said: “I do not deal with issues of national interest. I am at a provincial level now.”
STF is intact
Cele’s spokesperson Lirandzu Themba said the matter was submitted to the national commissioner to be dealt with.
She said the accused brigadier was not involved in the training of STF members, and there was no defiance that the minister was aware of or collapse of the unit.
“In fact, he says he was made aware by National Commissioner Khehla Sithole that an agreement was reached to continue the training of this unit and assured that measures have been put in place to ensure the safety of members,” said Themba.
Speaking on behalf of National Commissioner Sithole, Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo said: “I will not mince my words. Yes, the STF is on the brink of collapse because of these unruly officers who run to the media.”
Naidoo explained: “This used to be South Africa’s pride. The training methods are the best in the world. We were recognised as the best and it is disheartening to have such unruly behaviour among unit members.”
Naidoo explained that the minimum standards for the task force were currently being implemented.
“They are strenuous, which they are rightfully expected to be, and are in the best interest of the members of this elite unit and the SA Police Service (SAPS), as well as the country as a whole, given the extremities these members would be expected to go through in their day-to-day functioning.”
The brigadier continued to assert that the STF was under the command of the divisional commissioner of operational response services, Lieutenant General Mkhwanazi, who himself was an ex-task force member.
“I say this because, as the overall commander, General Mkhwanazi has the best interests of all of these levels, the members, the SAPS and the country, at heart. The implementation of the current training with the expected minimum standards began last month and one has to wonder why there is this sudden engagement with the media, particularly City Press, by a so-called deep throat on selected matters.
“The SAPS training processes are not guided by individuals’ personal preferences, instead they are guided by policies that are consulted on and approved on various levels,” said Naidoo.