National

'Hawks must remain in the police'

Glynnis Underhill

The boss of the priority crimes unit is confident that the law will protect its independence.

Hawks head Anwa Dramat in Parliament to discuss the South African Police Service Amendment Bill this week. (David Harrison, M&G)

Hawks head Anwa Dramat is adamant he would like to see his crack unit remain firmly entrenched in the South African police.

“I think it will be most effective within the police, given that the directorate of priority crime investigations [Hawks] won’t handle all cases. The South African Police Service has the structure to investigate crimes; we just do part of the sharp end,” said Dramat during a tea break in Parliament. “We work together with the SAPS. We have good relationships with them.”

Dramat and his legal team joined members of Parliament this week to fine-tune the South African Police Service Amendment Bill to try to ensure it will satisfy the requirement of the Constitutional Court, which ruled that it should protect the Hawks from political interference.

Whereas most of the submissions to the public hearings on the Bill held by the parliamentary police oversight committee lobbied for the Hawks to be an independent body, Dramat is certain it is where his unit belongs.

The Hawks boss is a man of contrasts. Softly spoken, with a humble manner, Dramat has an impressive background as a successful underground combatant for Umkhonto weSizwe. He was sentenced to 12 years on Robben Island for his MK activities and political convictions.

“Legislation will protect us”
His name also emerged in the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a torture victim of notorious security police interrogator Captain Jeff Benzien.

It is only when he talks about how the Hawks will retain their independence that he shows a steely side. “The legislation will protect us,” said Dramat, confidently. “We will have our own finances; we can make our own appointments.”

Not many have as much faith as Dramat that the Hawks will manage to be independent, given the fact that the Bill, as it stands, will place the national police commissioner as its accounting officer who will have the ultimate authority over the unit. Taking into account the country’s recent history of people placed in this position of power being toppled, he appears surprisingly undaunted at the prospect.

Speculation has been mounting that the head of crime intelligence, Richard Mdluli, who until recently had murder and fraud charges levelled against him, will be the next national police commissioner. It now looks less likely because Mdluli has been removed from his post pending the outcome of the ongoing investigations against him, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa announced this week.

When the complaints mechanism for the Hawks became operational again it would assist in preventing political influence, Dramat said. The Bill makes allowances for a retired judge to be appointed to run the complaints mechanism, which enables anyone to complain if they believe there has been political interference. However, the position has been vacant since last year.

Morale is good
Dramat said this was because the Constitutional Court had ruled on the police Bill and no appointment was made after a retired judge quit the post last year.

“This complaints mechanism is an important provision of the legislation,” he said. “Any person has recourse to the judge if they feel there is political influence over a case.”

Asked how the debacle around the reinstatement of Mdluli had affected his unit, Dramat said: “Everybody in the Hawks is dedicated to their work.  Morale is good.”

He firmly declined to comment when pushed on whether the infighting between the top brass over Mdluli had not derailed his unit.

It is alleged that some members of the police top brass, including Dramat, have been angered by accusations contained in a letter that Mdluli wrote to President Jacob Zuma alleging that his bosses and senior colleagues were co-conspirators in a campaign to discredit him.

Inquests
Although the National Prosecuting Authority has withdrawn murder and fraud charges against Mdluli, the Mail & Guardian established last week that Dramat had withstood extreme political pressure to allow a fraud investigation into the crime intelligence chief to continue.

This investigation has allegedly uncovered a concealed bank account, described as a second “slush fund”. Mdluli was earlier accused in an internal police report of looting the crime intelligence secret services account.

Asked whether anyone in the Hawks had asked for protection in light of the fact that senior NPA prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach had been shot at and attempts were made to force her car off the road, Dramat said no one had experienced similar problems.
“We haven’t had any reports of intimidation of our investigators,” he said. “Our investigators are trained police officers who can defend themselves.”

The seemingly unbowed Breytenbach, who has wanted Mdluli to be prosecuted on fraud charges, was suspended last week and will face a disciplinary hearing.

Mdluli also faced murder charges last year relating to the death in 1999 of Oupa Ramogibe, the husband of Mdluli’s former girlfriend. These charges were investigated by the Hawks, but the case was suddenly abandoned by the state in favour of an inquest. A senior police source has alleged that it was merely a ruse to delay proceedings because “those inquests can take years to complete”.

“Why was the murder case against the accused withdrawn when they had a case to answer?” said the source.

Mdluli has denied any wrongdoing.


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