Hawks' torture cases in limbo

The Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) says it has been waiting for 17 months for the national director of public prosecutions to decide whether to prosecute 14 Cape Town members of the Hawks allegedly involved in 18 cases of torture.

Sources said the decision about whether to prosecute has been delayed because many advocates in the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) work closely with the Hawks and the cases were passed “from advocate to advocate”. The NPA was now considering bringing in an outside advocate, said the sources.

The number of torture complaints against the policemen has risen to 29 since the original charges were laid.

“People have come forward to say they were also tortured since these cases received media coverage,” said ICD spokesperson Moses Dlamini.

The NPA has denied the claim by the directorate that it has been sitting on the case dockets for 17 months. On Thursday, it alleged it had only received case dockets relating to the murder last year, but that the dockets had been sent back to the directorate for further investigation and had only been received again recently.
The other cases had not yet been formally presented to the NPA, it alleged. “I hope this clears up any perceptions that this office has been tardy in dealing with the matter,” said NPA Western Cape spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila.

The 14 Hawks members implicated were members of the former organised crime unit in Bellville South, which now falls under the Hawks. They were linked to the case of Sidwell Mkwambi, a 24-year-old New Crossroads resident allegedly tortured to death and driven to the mortuary in a police van.

The ICD’s executive head, Francois Beukman, said he had met national prosecutions boss Menzi Simelane to urge a decision on the cases, “but we still await a decision”.

Beukman and key staffers were in Parliament this week to provide input into the Independent Police Investigative Directorate Bill, designed to give the ICD more teeth.

The legislation will give the directorate an extended mandate, focusing on serious and priority crimes committed by police personnel.

Police are expected to be given time frames to respond to the ICD’s requests for information and to be compelled to follow its recommendations.

In many cases police close ranks to prevent the directorate from doing its job, said Dlamini. “We’re hoping the legislation will strengthen us. Police won’t be able to ignore our recommendations, as in the past.”

The 18 cases involve murder, assault, torture and kidnapping. Torture methods allegedly included handcuffing suspects’ hands behind their backs before pulling plastic bags over their heads, threatening them with suffocation, pulling inner tubes over their faces and hitting, kicking and slapping them.

Western Cape police commissioner Mzwandile Petros, who it was reported this week will become Gauteng’s provincial police commissioner next month, failed to act on the ICD’s recommendation in February last year that the 14 Hawks members should be suspended pending its investigation. He said last September that he was still waiting for the cases to be finalised.

The provincial organised crime unit at the time of Mkwambi’s alleged murder fell under crack investigator Piet Viljoen, now a senior Hawks member.

Mkwambi’s sister, Mildred Nopinki, told the M&G last year that Viljoen visited her home in search of her brother after two policemen were shot in New Crossroads. She said police later arrested him and a friend, Siyabulela Njova. In a statement to police, Njova alleged he saw unit members dragging a “limp” Mkwambi down a passage.

Dlamini said the ICD was investigating the alleged widespread use of torture on suspects by Hawks members in different provinces.

There are fears that other cases in court may have to be reviewed if one of the implicated Hawks members were to have obtained a confession from the accused.

Glynnis Underhill

Glynnis Underhill

Glynnis Underhill has been in journalism for more years than she cares to remember. She loves a good story as much now as she did when she first started. The only difference is today she hopes she is giving something back to the country. Read more from Glynnis Underhill

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