We won’t let Zuma replace Hawks with lame ducks

zilleYesterday President Zuma took to the podium at the ANC’s 103rd birthday party and proclaimed:

“We cannot ignore the scourge of corruption that eats at the fabric of our society and constrains economic development. The ANC must continue to lead in ending corruption.”

That statement encouraged me to apply the old “duck test” of inductive reasoning to a crucial recent development: the attempt by Minister of Police, Nkosinathi Nhleko, to shaft Lieutenant-General Anwa Dramat, the head of the Hawks.

From all the information in the public domain (and especially from the information the police are keeping secret), the evidence suggests that Dramat is being purged because he refused to ignore “the scourge of corruption” (as Zuma seemed to demand). However, Dramat’s error was that his investigations brought him a little too close to Zuma Inc – the President, his family and their patronage network.

That is why he suffered the same fate as other top officials, from the National Prosecuting Authority to the South African Revenue Service, who believed that their job was to apply the law without fear or favour. That is why they – and now Dramat – had to go.

That is the only conclusion one can reach by applying the “duck test”, which says: If something looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. Of course, the “duck” in this case refers to a purge of anyone who gets too close to investigating corruption in Zuma’s network.

Before I get into too much detail – and this is a very complex case involving many pawns and many victims – let me give a brief synopsis:

Two days before Christmas the Police Minister, Nkosinathi Nhleko, suspended Lieutenant-General Anwa Dramat, National Head of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI) – commonly known as the Hawks.

The reason given for Dramat’s suspension was his alleged involvement in the illegal rendition of a number of Zimbabweans, who were on that country’s “most wanted” criminal list, in 2010.

His suspension came three weeks after the Constitutional Court ruled that the Minister cannot interfere with the hiring or firing of the Hawks boss. (This can only be done on the recommendation of the National Assembly, with a two-thirds vote.)

His suspension also came shortly after he requested that high-profile case files – including that of the Nkandla investigation – be handed over by SAPS to the Hawks for investigation.

And his suspension also came after he was reportedly cleared by the Independent Police Investigative Diretctorate (IPID) of wrongdoing in the Zimbabwean rendition case, as confirmed by none other than the Head of IPID, Robert McBride.

So, despite a Constitutional Court ruling that the Police Minister can’t fire or suspend him, and despite being cleared of wrongdoing, Dramat was suspended by Minister Nhleko immediately after requesting the hand-over of a file in order to investigate the president.

The obvious question here is: Why would the Minister blatantly violate the Constitution and disregard a specific Constitutional Court ruling?

Why would he risk his integrity – and possibly his career – on this? What kind of pressure can possibly outweigh the combined pressure of the Law, the Constitution and the public expectation to do the right thing?

There is only one kind, and that is the pressure that comes from the highest office – the pressure applied by President Zuma himself.

Before the Hawks, we had an even more potent corruption busting unit in the Scorpions, which operated independently under the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). But, as soon as Jacob Zuma became president (while facing charges on more than 700 counts of fraud and corruption), he quickly got rid of the Scorpions, replacing them with the tamer Hawks, which now fell under the jurisdiction of the SAPS.

Since 2008, the Helen Suzman Foundation and businessman Hugh Glenister have been fighting a prolonged court battle to ensure greater independence for the Hawks by returning them to the jurisdiction of the NPA.

On 27 November 2014, the Constitutional Court ruled that part of the SAPS Amendment Act – a section that gave the Police Ministry “untrammelled power” to remove the head of the Hawks unit – was unconstitutional and that it should be removed from the Act.

It’s hard to imagine that Minister Nhleko was not aware of this ruling, or that he didn’t understand it’s implication for his Ministry. But nevertheless, three weeks later he suspended Dramat using the deleted clauses of the Act.

When this was pointed out to him by Dramat’s lawyer, he simply changed his tune and claimed he was now using the regular SAPS employment regulations to proceed with the suspension.

Either way, this was a flagrant subversion of our Constitution and direct disregard for a Constitutional Court ruling. He must have known that he’d be called out on it. So why did he do it?

It certainly looks like a duck.

But that’s not the only mystifying aspect of his decision to suspend Dramat.

Minister Nhleko has claimed, all along, that the reason for Dramat’s suspension is his alleged involvement in the illegal rendition of Zimbabwean nationals in 2010.

But nine months ago, in April 2014, IPID concluded it’s investigation into this matter. This report was not made public, and the DA has filed a Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) application to gain access to it. But we know, from a meeting that took place between Dramat’s legal team and IPID Head, Robert McBride, that the report exonerates him.

In fact, according to McBride, it more than exonerates him. It presents evidence of an attempt to falsely implicate him.

It’s almost unfathomable to think that Minister Nhleko doesn’t know the full contents of the report. So why would he then still claim this as the reason for the suspension?

It certainly swims like a duck.

Which brings me to the timing of the Minister’s decision. On 20 March 2014, a delegation from the DA laid criminal charges against President Zuma at the Nkandla Police Station following the release of the Public Protector’s report. This case file has been held by the head of SAPS detectives ever since.

After the Constitutional Court ruling in November, Dramat asked for the Nkandla file to be handed over to the Hawks for investigation. (The ruling confirmed that the head of the Hawks has exclusive jurisdiction when it comes to deciding which matters should be investigated by them).

SAPS did not comply, and shortly after this Dramat was supended by the Minister.

Now, if the Minister knew about the rendition allegations since at least 2011, and if the IPID investigation had been concluded nine months ago, why wait till Christmas, right after Dramat had asked for the Nkandla file, to suspend him?

It most certainly quacks like a duck.

Everything here points to instructions from above to remove the man who won’t stop sticking his nose in places the President finds uncomfortable, and replace him with someone who can be “handled”. Someone who can be counted on to investigate certain people, and to turn a blind eye to others, depending on their links to Zuma Inc.

And that’s exactly the kind of man that Minister Nhleko has now appointed as the Acting Head of the Hawks. Berning Ntlemeza – a man with close ties to disgraced former Crime Inteligence Head and Zuma ally, Richard Mdluli – has had a busy start to his new job.

He has clearly been sent in to do the dirty work in what looks to be a swift and far-reaching purge in the Hawks. Last Monday he suspended Gauteng Hawks Head, Major-General Shadrack Sibiya, as well as Colonel Leslie Maluleke, linking them to the same Zimbabwean rendition case.

His next target looks to be KwaZulu-Natal Hawks Head, Lieutenant-General Johan Booysen, who has been fighting efforts to get rid of him (on charges for which he has been exonerated four times) since 2012. Back then the National Police Commissioner placed him on suspension following allegations of racketeering.

In March 2014 all criminal charges against him were withdrawn, and in September he was cleared in an internal investigation. On 18 December he was granted an urgent interdict in the Durban High Court that prevented his discharge or transfer.

Booysen is a target because, like Dramat, he too began to investigate powerful people with ties to the president. Prior to his suspension in 2012, he had conducted investigations into six KZN MECs. He was also investigating the “corrupt relationship” between the KZN Police Commissioner, Major-General Mmamonnye Ngobeni, and Toshan Panday, a close business partner of President Jacob Zuma’s son.

National Police Commissioner, Riah Phiyega, tried to fire Booysen, but was prevented from doing so by a regulation that states that this can only be done by the head of the Hawks. With Dramat now out of the way and a compliant puppet in his place, it seems to be only a matter of time.

It is clear that anyone with intentions of shining a light on the murky business dealings of President Zuma and his network of family, friends and officials who depend on him for patronage, will end up on the chopping block.

In the case of Dramat, it seems he might be able to find some protection in the law. But it may be too late already, as the enormous pressure he is under takes its toll. It is reported that he has had enough. He has concluded that the ANC does not want an independent, professional police service, and wants to discuss possible terms for an early retirement with the Police Minister. This would be a victory for Zuma Inc and a crushing blow for the independence of the Hawks.

The Helen Suzman Foundation has filed an urgent application in the Pretoria High Court to overturn his supension. For the sake of our democracy and the rule of law, it is crucial that they succeed.

The DA also wants Parliament to review Minister Nhleko’s decision to suspend Dramat, in contravention of a Constitutional Court ruling. We believe there is a case for Parliament to find that the Minister is not fit to hold office.

We simply cannot allow President Zuma to do to the Hawks what he’s been doing to SARS, the NPA and the SABC. These institutions are there to protect all South Africans from the abuse of power – not to protect the President from accountability.

Helen Zille

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