/ 29 May 1998

Mbuli: Cops probe `set-up’

Tangeni Amupadhi

The official police watchdog, the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD), has embarked on a wide- ranging investigation into allegations that the jailed People’s Poet, Mzwakhe Mbuli, was framed for robberies.

This follows a plea by Jessie Duarte, former Gauteng MEC for safety and security, for the watchdog to examine the highly suspicious circumstances surrounding the case that has left Mbuli languishing in jail since last October.

Evidence that some witnesses were pressured into making statements implicating Mbuli in the robberies, that others were forced to falsely point him out at an identification parade, and that others were coached to make false statements has led the ICD to step up its probe into police handling of the case.

Julian Snitcher, the ICD’s deputy director for special investigations, confirms that the directorate is investigating various allegations of police malpractices in the case.

Duarte asked the directorate to investigate after complaints from Mbuli’s British promotors, Arts Admin.

Gill Lloyd, of Arts Admin, says it was strange that the bank Mbuli is alleged to have robbed last October did not switch on its surveillance camera that day. She also claims that a Soweto man has admitted he was recruited by police to implicate Mbuli in one of the robberies.

Lloyd says an affidavit has been obtained from another person who is alleged to have heard police giving Mbuli’s description to the owner of a liquor store which police say was also robbed by Mbuli. The liquor store owner later pointed the poet out at an identity parade, though none of his staff were able to do so.

Snitcher says: “We are not investigating whether Mr Mbuli was involved in the crime. What we are looking at is whether the police investigation was properly conducted.” All aspects of the police’s conduct will be probed, including issues which may show that the police framed South Africa’s popular poet.

The directorate’s investigators this week spoke to Mbuli after several prior attempts, but Snitcher would not comment further about the case, other than to say it is sensitive, spans three provinces, that many interviews have been conducted and more documentary evidence is being sought.

Mbuli maintains he was the target of a smear by the police. Police claim they arrested him shortly after a robbery in Waverley outside Pretoria last October. They allegedly recovered R15 000 and firearms, one licensed to him. He concedes he was carrying his licensed pistol, but denies knowledge about the other weapons, including a hand grenade, which he says were found only after he had been placed in the police van.

Mbuli says the whole thing was a set-up. According to him, he drove to Pretoria to meet a stranger who claimed he had information about an attempt on his life a year earlier. Mbuli allegedly pulled into the bank’s shopping complex, met a man who gave him an envelope and told him to drive away quickly.

Shortly afterwards police pulled him over, saying they had been tipped off that his blue BMW was involved in the robbery. The envelope was full of money.

Police say they have since linked Mbuli to a string of other robberies, including the hold-up of a liquor store in the Northern Province, where R900 was taken.

“These guys are desperate,” Mbuli has said. “They still have my car. I won’t be surprised if next they say they have found an AK-47 in it.”

Mbuli has described his arrest as an attempt to divert attention from the “truth about the attempts on my life”.

Shortly before his arrest, says Mbuli, he met Duarte to demand that police conclude their investigation into attempts to assassinate him. He says he passed on information to the police proving he was caught in the middle of a drug conspiracy.

After Mbuli’s arrest, Duarte released a statement commending the police for their “quick response” and for the recovery of a hand grenade and hand guns. “We have been made aware of the fact that Mzwakhe Mbuli is one of the three suspects and we believe that the law must take its course,” she said at the time.

Mongezi Mnyani, deputy director of communications in the Gauteng Department of Safety and Security, says Arts Admin’s complaint was passed on to the ICD as the police watchdog has the expertise to deal with the matter.

Snitcher says the directorate will take two more weeks to conclude its investigation.

Police have successfully opposed Mbuli’s bail application three times, saying the well-known towering figure is a flight risk. His case has been set for trial from June 22 to 26. Mbuli has asked for a black judge as he believes a white judge will deny him justice.

Mbuli is no stranger to injustice. He was arrested eight times during the apartheid era, spending six months in solitary confinement, and his recordings were banned. He honed his unique revolutionary lyrics at Soweto funerals in the 1980s, denouncing the state in the face of police cameras.