Brett Herron | A rogue police unit cannot be permitted

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Brett Herron has approached police minister Bheki Cele to investigate a 'rogue' police structure in Cape Town.
Brett Herron has approached police minister Bheki Cele to investigate a 'rogue' police structure in Cape Town.
_Melinda Stuurman

Brett Herron argues that going directly to the national minister of police and police commissioner over a police unit in Cape Town is not an act of politicking.

The City's Cape Flats communities know the fragility of life intimately. They know that their lives could end at any moment, and they know that their children's futures could be irreversibly destroyed in an instant.

Those who live with a rampant and endless crime spree, fueled by warring gangs and an untouchable underworld, know a child mowed down, a friend left quadriplegic, a neighbour who never came home.

Death, injury and loss are interminably part of everyday life.

Cape Town's crime problem is too severe for responsible people to play cheap politics with.

That is why our request to the Minister of Police, to investigate the City of Cape Town's SIU (Special Investigating Unit), is a serious request. 

READ | GOOD party calls on Cele to investigate City of Cape Town's 'rogue' police structure

It is based on a concern that rogue policing, whether within the Hawks, SAPS or the City's structures, cannot be permitted since they are dangerous and often enable some faction of organised crime.

The mayor's response to this request for an investigation was irresponsible and pure political theatre. 

A responsible mayor who has been in the job for two months and with absolutely no experience wouldn't have reacted with a political argument when he doesn't know the law or the facts. 

He would have paused, committed to conduct his own enquiries, and confirmed that if he was sitting at the top of a government that is operating an illegal policing unit, he would shut it down, hand over the information to the lawful authorities and hold those responsible accountable.

Request conflated 

Geordin Hill-Lewis attempted to conflate the request for an investigation with interference with the devolution of policing powers. Our request to the National Minister of Police is not an attempt to undermine local policing powers. 

GOOD was launched in 2019 with an unequivocal understanding that our country's future lies in the development of its towns and cities and that fixing much of what is not working in South Africa involves turning the government on its head. This means empowering towns and cities to build prosperous, safe and socially inclusive communities. Devolution of powers is at the core of our plans and policies.

Hill-Lewis was also irresponsible when he suggested that this was about the City yielding its policing powers. A democratically elected government only has the powers provided for by the law. A government wielding powers it does not have is acting outside the rule of law, it is undemocratic and illegitimate. You cannot yield what you do not have.

My request for an investigation into the City's SIU (or SSIU as it is now sometimes called) was directly as a result of the replies provided to my parliamentary questions by the MEC for Community Safety and the City of Cape Town itself.

In April 2021, the media reported that the Head of the City's SIU, Chief Reynold Talmakkies, was being prosecuted in Witbank for tampering with SAPS investigation dockets when he was a member of SAPS. 

At the same time, the Western Cape Provincial Government and the City of Cape Town were promoting a crime prevention programme called LEAP (Law Enforcement Advancement Plan). LEAP is the implementation of the Western Cape Safety Plan – a plan that the Western Cape Government has allocated a whopping R1.3 billion to fund.

The Western Cape Safety Plan commits to adding "boots to the ground" in order to halve the murder rate in the ten most violent crime precincts in Cape Town. In addition to "boots on the ground" the plan proposes to employ 150 investigators – starting with the recruitment of 50 investigators in the first year. 

The implementation plan, LEAP, confirms that 50 investigators will be employed by the City and then deployed to the City's SIU (or SSIU) where they will conduct "shadow criminal investigations" and "gather intelligence".

The LEAP plan includes staffing organograms for the implementation of the entire programme. The organogram for the officers deployed to the SIU are shown to be under the command of Chief Reynold Talmakkies – the same officer who is being prosecuted for tampering with police dockets.

In May 2021, I submitted several parliamentary questions to the MEC for Community Safety, Albert Fritz, who has since been suspended,about the role of the SIU and its Chief given the media reports about his prosecution.

The MEC did not answer any of my questions with any degree of integrity or detail. His exact reply to my question about the SIU was:

"According to information received from the City of Cape Town, the SIU does not fall under the Municipal Police Service therefore the SIU is not within the oversight mandate of the Department of Community Safety"

According to the Police Act a Municipal Police Service is established on application by a municipality to the MEC and the MEC has powers of oversight over how that service is implemented. 

The reply to my parliamentary question did not make sense to me since a policing unit can only be operated by a municipality when it is a Municipal Police Service. There is no other legislation that gives a local government policing powers. But, the MEC was telling me that he cannot exercise oversight powers because the SIU is not a municipal police service and therefore has no authority.

On top of this, the MEC for Community Safety is the custodian of the Western Cape Safety Plan. As indicated, that plan is giving R1.3 billion to the City of Cape Town to implement and is a plan which is funding officers to be investigators conducting criminal investigations and gathering intelligence under the SIU and its criminally charged chief.

More questions 

In this context, the answers were obviously unacceptable. I thus followed up with further questions in July 2021. Given the MEC's previous replies, that the SIU is not a Municipal Police Service, I asked about where the SIU got its policing powers from and whether the MEC had made any enquiries to the City about the prosecution of the Head of the SIU. The replies to my follow up questions were equally unsatisfactory. 

The MEC answered:

"No investigation or enquiries were conducted as the Minister has no oversight mandate over the SIU".

 Strangely, the MEC also denied that the SIU is part of the LEAP plan even though the plan, as adopted by the City of Cape Town Council, make extensive reference to the SIU and its investigation role under the command of Talmakkies.

I was still not satisfied with the MEC's response and submitted a question for oral reply during a sitting of Parliament in August 2021. Once again the MEC failed to answer the question about the role of the SIU, where it gets its powers from and how it is immune from oversight.  

A fourth attempt to get a sensible reply to the serious questions about the role of the SIU, the powers it claims to exercise in the LEAP plan and provincial government oversight was thwarted when in September 2021 the Speaker of Parliament "disallowed" my follow-up questions because he claimed they had been asked and answered several times already.

Then in December 2021, the media reported that the SIU Chief Reynold Talmakkies had been arrested on allegations of fraud and corruption and appeared in the Bellville Commercial Crimes Court. The charges related to a City tender for housing repairs and maintenance.

Section 64 of the Police Act deals with the establishment of Municipal Police Services and sets out that the functions of Municipal Policing are "Traffic Policing, Municipal By Law Policing and Prevention of crime". Section 64N of the Act gives the MEC a duty of oversight and extensive powers to exercise that duty.

When a MEC fails to make any inquiries about a unit ostensibly conducting policing powers and claims immunity from oversight, the MEC is either negligent or evading his duties. The obvious question is why?

READ | Cape Town's new mayor: Opposition parties vow to keep close eye on Geordin Hill-Lewis

In the meantime, the responses from Mayor Hill-Lewis and his Mayco Member JP Smith have made the investigation even more urgent. 

Hill-Lewis's claim that the unit is an integral part of the fight against corruption is absurd – the head of the unit was arrested on allegations of corruption and is being prosecuted for docket tampering. Hill-Lewis was basically saying when it comes to corruption this city unit, unaccountable to the MEC, is investigating corruption within the city – the city investigates itself. The dangers are obvious – this unit and its political or administrative bosses can decide what corruption is reported to the real authorities and what corruption is conveniently overlooked. 

Not politicking 

More importantly, and in terms of Section 16 and 17 of the Police Act, the powers to investigate national priority crimes like corruption and organised crime lie with the Hawks (Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation). The City's SIU doesn't have the powers to investigate corruption. 

In the meanwhile, Smith has been scrambling and lying. He claimed that the SIU is in the City's Annual Police Plan which he says is approved by the minister every year. The City of Cape Town's Annual Police Plans make no reference to the SIU.

Going directly to the national minister of police and police commissioner is not an act of politicking. It is the last, and only avenue available to understand what the City's rogue unit is up to after the MEC, the Mayor and the MMC have closed ranks and avoided all accountability.

A unit that acts like a police unit but is subject to no external oversight and is immune from parliamentary questions is not how we solve the crime problem in Cape Town or South Africa. A unit which is shrouded and disguised, and hidden behind lies, is not legitimate. All policing is subject to parliamentary oversight. Why does the City have a secret unit that is answerable only to itself? We don't know how this unit is used and by whom.

The Police Act empowers the national commissioner and the national minister to intervene when the MEC fails or refuses to do so.

My request to the national minister was prompted by the defiance of the MEC and the City and their dishonest and irrational responses to legitimate questions about this unit and under which laws it operates.

Anyone who thinks a rogue policing unit is fixing crime secretly has not been paying attention to the South African crime problem.

- Brett Herron is GOOD's Secretary-General & member of Western Cape Provincial Parliament.

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