/ 11 July 2008

Who’s really in charge of the armed forces?

Who is really South Africa’s commander-in-chief? National Intelligence Agency director general Manala Manzini gave President Thabo Mbeki this title during his testimony before the Ginwala inquiry.

Suspended prosecutions boss Vusi Pikoli adopted the phrase in his evidence, referring to Mbeki as the ”commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces”.

However, evidence before the inquiry about what transpired during Pikoli’s meeting with Mbeki on September 16 2007 casts doubt on whether Mbeki regards himself as chief of the country’s security services, particularly the police.

Pikoli testified that at the meeting a week before he was suspended he formally informed Mbeki that arrest and search and seizure warrants had been obtained for police National Commissioner Jackie Selebi. ”The president appeared shocked and was not happy with the fact that we had obtained those warrants.”

When Mbeki asked Pikoli to wait for two weeks before acting on the warrants Pikoli said he couldn’t and would give Mbeki a week at most.

Mbeki allegedly replied: ”Vusi, do you know how angry the police are? Do you know there are police officers who are prepared to defy any court order?”

”I said I failed to understand their anger. We were not acting against the police, we were acting against certain individuals,” said Pikoli.

Pikoli was this week grilled by the inquiry’s senior counsel, Ishmael Semenya, on his decision not to allow Mbeki the two weeks he had asked for and hold back on the warrants.

”Your premise is that you wanted to investigate and arrest Mr Selebi, not necessarily the national commissioner of police, but the man. Would it have compromised your work to arrest him as Joe Soap and not as the head of Interpol?” Semenya asked.

Pikoli responded: ”For us, here was a person with links to organised crime, the national commissioner. We do what we had to do in terms of the law.

”Everybody is equal before the law— It would be like saying the national commissioner can’t be arrested because the police officers will cause mayhem. We must close down as the NPA if we are going to be helpless in the face of these threats.”

Pikoli said that he was not prepared to let South Africa be ”reduced to a wasteland” by not acting against Selebi when there was tacit evidence before him.

Mbeki concluded the meeting by asking director general in the presidency Frank Chikane to convene a meeting of the National Security Council, to which Pikoli should have been invited.

Pikoli never received the invitation and was shown the door by the ”commander-in-chief” a week later.