Hawks continue to dive into a web of conspiracies
It was an unfortunate but high ranking official in the ministry of police who, on Christmas eve last year, got a phone call while driving home to see his family.
“The head of the Hawks, Anwa Dramat, had been suspended at about 4pm on December 23,” said the man at the other end of the line.
The official turned his car around, for a moment doubting that his job was worth the money under the circumstances, and headed back to Johannesburg to manage the messy storm that was about to unfold.
The head of the Hawks in Gauteng, Major General Shadrack Sibiya, and Colonel Leslie Maluleke were served with notices of suspension on Monday.
They have a week to respond to the acting Hawks boss, Major General Berning Ntlemeza, who issued the notices. Ntlemeza testified in an inquiry investigating former crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli in 2012.
Late last year, the head of the Hawks in KwaZulu-Natal, Johan Booysen, obtained an interim court order preventing police commissioner Riah Phiyega from suspending him. The matter is set down for March, at which the order will either be made final or set aside.
Speculation has been rife that these developments are inter-related, or that there is a high-level purge going on in the Hawks.
The timing is notable, as the Constitutional Court handed down judgment in November last year, ruling on whether the South African Police Service (SAPS) Act sufficiently secures the independence of the Hawks from the executive.
But it is not clear that these events are linked at all.
On the surface it seemed that Dramat had been served with notice of a precautionary suspension pending a sort of fact-finding mission to be conducted by the Minister of Police Nkosinathi Nhleko, into allegations that he was involved in the illegal rendition of four Zimbabwean suspects.
Sibiya and Maluleke are also alleged to have been involved in the renditions.
An investigation by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) apparently cleared Dramat of the charges, but the police will not confirm or deny this.
Neither will Ipid, which could only confirm to the Mail & Guardian that their report was handed to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in February 2014 – a standard procedure.
A draft report, supposedly leaked to the
Sunday Times, seemed to suggest that the investigation was headed the other way.
The final report was never made public.
Rendition or no rendition, Dramat and the other officials implicated have outright denied their guilt. Sibiya, also implicated in the rendition reports, said he did not even know the suspects involved, let alone have them illegally deported.
Rumours and hearsay
Now rumours abound that Dramat was actually suspended to move him away from some sensitive, high-level investigations.
Reportedly, Dramat had angered police management by requesting that dockets dealing with President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla residence and fraud cases involving politicians be handed over to him for investigation by the Hawks.
In a Sunday Times report, it was alleged that Dramat offered to retire early if his suspension was overturned “without me having to go to court to do so”, he said.
In Booysen’s case, his home province is the scene of many an alleged crime, particularly where politicians, money and greasy palms have come together.
The Hawks in that province are investigating a number of cases in which politicians are implicated.
The reasons behind Sibiya’s suspension are particularly unclear.
He was fingered in a bribery case, which came before the high court in Johannesburg last year, but he was not suspended then.
For now, the police ministry cannot comment on any of the suspensions, particularly Dramat’s, where Nhleko was directly involved.
Ministry spokesperson Musa Zondi said what has happened may or may not form part of a court process and that talking about it publicly would be inappropriate.
The police will not confirm whether a legal process is about to unfold or whether it has accepted Dramat’s resignation offer.
With a background in labour affairs (he was director general at the department of labour), Nhleko knows that talking publicly about anything related to the Dramat affair is potentially damaging to his ministry, should Dramat launch a challenge against his suspension.
But behind the scenes, the Mail & Guardian understands that Nhleko and his inner circle have wrestled with, and debated, whether or not to come clean about what has happened.
Not about Dramat’s innocence or guilt, but simply about whether Ipid indeed cleared Dramat of the rendition charges in its final report. There is an internal acknowledgment that this is a matter of great public interest. But it cannot be discussed, yet.
Dramat’s guilt or innocence aside, one leg of any legal process will certainly rest on the legality of his suspension.
In late 2014, in a majority judgment, the Constitutional Court struck down a section of the SAPS Act, which previously gave the minister of police sole discretion in the firing of the head of the Hawks, so long as the reasons for the dismissal were legitimate.
The amended Act says the minister must now wait for an ad hoc committee of Parliament to consider the head of the Hawks’ potential suspension before the minister can exercise his discretion.
This is to give Parliament a more meaningful role in the process.
Previously, Parliament would merely be informed after the fact, which the Constitutional Court pointed out made its role in the process quite pointless.
Yet, Zondi told the Mail & Guardian that the ministry viewed the amendments to the Act to be untested terrain, which still needed to be interpreted by a lower court in a test case scenario.
Dramat’s suspension might be that case. Zondi said the ministry remained unconvinced of what the changes to the Act meant for the minister. But the minister had sought legal advice before suspending Dramat, Zondi said, and so remained sure that his decision was legally sound.
Dianne Kohler Barnard, a Democratic Alliance MP, says the suspension was certainly unconstitutional.
Dramat’s lawyer, advocate Johan Nortje, agrees.