Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko has pointed a finger at suspended Hawks head Amat Dramat, asking why the alleged illegal rendition and the death of two Zimbabweans had not been at the top of the Hawks list for investigation.
Nhleko likened the rendition of the Zimbaweans to apartheid era cross border raids in which freedom fighters were abducted, kidnapped an killed without a trace.
He made the statement in court papers filed late Thursday in the Pretoria high court in response to an urgent application by the Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF) to have Dramat reinstated until the matter could be decided by Parliament.
The foundation says, irrespective of reasons provided by the state, the minister may not, in terms of a Constitutional Court ruling last year which struck off sections of the South African Police Act, remove the head of the Hawks by himself.
The highest court in the land held that such a decision had to be taken by a committee convened by Parliament, to ensure the independence of the corruption-fighting unit.
This case was brought by the foundation and businessman Hugh Glenister.
The Constitutional Court said the Directorate for Priority Crimes Investigation (DPCI), or Hawks as it is known, was an indispensible investigative organ that must be given substantial protections to carry out its mandate.
Nhleko said he felt compelled to take action based on the information that was before him, suspending Dramat on December 23 2015.
“If I do not act when confronted with such serious allegations alleged to have been committed by the DPCI, in which its head is alleged to have been involved. An assertion that I am complicit in these heinous crimes will not be far-fetched.”
The minister concedes that the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) report exonerated Dramat, but said: “these assertions were made without facts of appreciation of why such a conclusion was made by Ipid”.
He said the Ipid report contained “disturbing witness” statements. The report has been submitted to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), who will decide whether to take action against Hawks members.
Postponing the application
An agreement was reached by lawyers for both sides on Thursday, after some discussion, to postpone the application until Monday, January 19, after the state said it had not been given enough time to respond.
It said papers had been served on it on Friday, January 9, giving them just two days to respond.
David Unterhalter, SC, for the foundation, said the state had been informed on December 30 that legal action would be taken if they did not furnish information about their reasons and their justification for Dramat’s suspension within seven days.
No reply was forthcoming.
In arguing for the urgency of the application, Unterhalter said there was a very real concern that during Dramat’s removal decisions would be made “that would be difficult to overturn in the future”.
The foundation said in its submission that the national head must be perceived as independent of executive and political influence.
“If the national head is unlawfully displaced, then this would most certainly disrupt or compromise ongoing investigations, risk instability and dysfunctionality within the DPCI, and create a perception among the public and members of the DPCI that the DPCI is vulnerable to executive interference or political influence.”
The minister’s lawyer, William Mokhari SC, denied that the foundation had made a case for an urgent application saying that there would be “no blood on the wall” if the application was heard next week. He had been asking for the matter to be postponed to Tuesday.
Dramat in a letter to the minister, a day after his suspension, said he was aware in the next two months there will be drive to remove certain investigations under his watch and that unfortunately, certain sensitive investigations may even be closed down.
Dramat was suspended on allegations that he was involved in the legal rendition of Zimbabweans in 2010.
He is one of three Hawk staff members to be suspended for the rendition of Zimbabweans in 2010 and 2011.
The others are Gauteng Hawks head Shadrack Sibiya and senior Hawks official Leslie Maluleke both suspended in the last week.
A day after Dramat’s removal, he was replaced by acting head Berning Ntlemeza.
Unterhalter said the minister was not entitled to replace Dramat with someone of his choosing.
Dramat in his letter to the minister a day after his precautionary suspension said he is willing to take early retirement, on condition that the suspension be lifted.
“It became clear to me during the last year that the intention is to get rid of me,” he said.