A conflict between the country's two top specialist police crime-fighting units, Crime Intelligence and the Directorate for Priority Crime, better known as the Hawks, is threatening to destabilise the fight against crime in the country.
Gauteng Hawks boss, Major General Shadrack Sibiya, this week accused Crime Intelligence of a dirty-tricks campaign being waged against him and Hawks chief, Lieutenant General Anwa Dramat.
The tension between the two powerful units centres on accusations levelled against Dramat and Sibiya, who have, over the past three years, been investigated but cleared by police of involvement in the illegal rendition of four men to Zimbabwe.
It has been claimed that one of the men was found murdered after he was handed over to police in Zimbabwe, but details still have to be revealed as the case has yet to go to court.
Rendition, an illegal act, involves the kidnapping and transfer of prisoners from one country to another.
The police watchdog, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), has been investigating the case for the past year.
This week Sibiya claimed there was a deliberate campaign to smear him and Dramat to undermine their powerful roles in the Hawks.
It is a matter of public record that Crime Intelligence reported the rendition matter to the police, said Sibiya, who was formerly head of the now disbanded Scorpions crime-fighting unit in the Free State.
In an interview with the Mail & Guardian on Wednesday, an emotional Sibiya said he is fed up with seeing his name in newspapers and having unsubstantiated accusations constantly levelled against him.
"It will be like trying to raise the dead to prove I was involved, because I have no knowledge of this rendition," he said. "General Dramat is not operational and also has no knowledge of it."
As the Hawks believe their phones are being tapped, the interview was difficult to arrange and finally took place at the side of a road in Pretoria. Forty-six-year-old Sibiya was accompanied by national Hawks spokesperson Captain Paul Ramaloko, who later gave a startling response to the M&G's follow-up questions, directed to police, and claimed there was no tension between Crime Intelligence and the Hawks.
Ramaloko plays a dual role, also serving as national spokesperson for the police.
"I know nothing about this rendition story and certainly never sanctioned it. I say IPID must bring it on," said a clearly furious Sibiya, who was smartly dressed in striped shirt and dark suit in the midday heat. "We will show the courts this is all nonsense. I was not involved in any renditions and certainly have no knowledge of this rendition."
Insisting that his wish would be for the matter to be finalised, even if it landed up in court, Sibiya said he has no choice now but to defend himself, as public perception is important in the fight against crime.
Although he and his team have cracked the most-wanted list of people responsible for cash-in-transit heists, he said he has not received the support he required. Instead, he said, some colleagues were trying to set him up.
"Saying they are framing us is an understatement," said Sibiya, his exasperation showing.
"As I try to work, there are colleagues out to get us. They are little rats on your toes. I am doing great work for the country in fighting crime but there are people working against me."
The latest crime statistics have revealed that serious and violent crime is on the increase and infighting in the police agencies is of grave concern to Sibiya.
On top of the rendition accusation, he claimed, several accusations of assault have also been levelled against him as part of the smear campaign.
A third Hawks official, Colonel Leslie "Cowboy" Maluleke, has also been accused of involvement in the rendition. Sibiya claimed during the interview that Maluleke has made a statement to police alleging he was involved with Crime Intelligence officers in a legal deportation operation to Zimbabwe.
Sibiya believes he was smeared because he investigated suspended Crime Intelligence head Richard Mdluli, who was charged with corruption and murder. The charges were later withdrawn by the National Prosecuting Authority.
Mdluli, who last year claimed in an interview with the M&G that he is innocent of all charges, is hoping to return to his job while court action in his sensational case continues.
The Hawks have not halted their investigation into Mdluli, despite claims that he is a close ally of President Jacob Zuma and is therefore protected.
Although Crime Intelligence is said by some police sources to be "in tatters" over the Mdluli matter, the Hawks, also in the process of change, have started re-interviewing officers for their jobs in compliance with amended legislation. Among them is Dramat, whose post has been advertised. The Hawks will eventually be relaunched. Some Hawks members believe the "smear campaign" could be part of a strategy to remove its most powerful figures.
Tensions heightened over the rendition case this week after the Sunday Times ran a story claiming that Dramat would present himself to the IPID for interrogation and that the former ace ANC intelligence operative might be arrested.
But police spokesperson Vish Naidoo told the M&G he has not heard of the imminent arrest of Dramat and was shocked to read the story. He said he had asked for comment from Crime Intelligence in response to questions from the M&G, which he said he would forward. No comment was forthcoming.
Moses Dlamini, spokesperson for the IPID, confirmed that the directorate is investigating the case and that the investigation is "currently at an advanced stage".
Sources close to the IPID investigation said the directorate has a sound case and evidence of a meeting between Dramat and Zimbabwe police officials in South Africa before the rendition took place. Forged home affairs documents were apparently used and a death certificate was obtained for one of the men.
Some Hawks members are sceptical about the IPID case, describing Dramat, who was sentenced to 12 years on Robben Island in 1988 for his activities as an Umkhonto weSizwe operative, as beyond reproach in his police work. Among his important attributes, they say, is that he cannot be politically influenced.
"It is a simple matter to refer a prisoner to home affairs and it arranges deportation," said a senior police officer, who cannot be named as he is not allowed to speak to the press.
"What motive would Dramat have to become involved in a criminal rendition act like this?"
Dramat declined to comment, telling the M&G that he would "prefer not to discuss this matter".
How they connect
Both the Hawks and Crime Intelligence have a crucial role to play in the fight against crime.
Crime Intelligence ordinarily gathers intelligence, and the Hawks investigate the matter based on the intelligence gathered.
Crime Intelligence is said to be in disarray, with several leaders, including Richard Mdluli, being probed for serious crimes.
The Hawks will be relaunched soon, with all members having to reapply for their jobs.