/ 11 September 2015

New Hawks boss, a controversial appointment

Mthandazo Ntlemeza.
Mthandazo Ntlemeza.

The acting head of the Directorate for Priority Crimes – the Hawks – Major General Mthandazo Berning Ntlemeza has been appointed as the unit’s permanent head. 

Police minister Nathi Nhleko made the announcement somewhat unexpectedly during a Parliamentary media briefing in Cape Town this afternoon. According to some media reports Ntlemeza was not on the short-list for the position, but Nhleko’s spokesman Musa Zondi said he had been both shortlisted and interviewed.

Zondi said that 23 people had applied for the position “on time and there were five interviewed in one day”. “The panel consisted of the Ministers of Justice, State Security and the Deputy police Minister. They were selected because they are part of the [security] cluster,” Zondi added.  While several police sources amaBhungane has spoken to since the announcement were not surprised by Ntlemeza’s appointment, it could be construed as controversial.

Ntlemeza was appointed as the specialised police unit’s acting head after its previous commander Anwa Dramat was controversially suspended by Nhleko in December last year. Dramat let go of the reigns after he reached a R6-million settlement with the police in April.  It wasn’t long however, before Ntlemeza was linked to various controversies, including his ties to former crime intelligence head Richard Mdluli.

Ntlemeza, as previously reported by amaBhungane, was personally briefed by Mdluli to conduct an investigation into an alleged plot to discredit him –  after Mdluli was appointed the divisional commissioner for crime intelligence in July 2009. 

Mdluli became aware of efforts to reopen the investigation into the 1999 murder of Oupa Ramogibe – Mdluli’s former lover’s husband. Ntlemeza handed his report, dated January 14 2010, to Mdluli, who used it to try to discredit the allegations against him surrounding Ramogibe’s death. Ntlemeza reported: “It is clear that there was a plot within the crime intelligence environment to prevent divisional commissioner Mdluli … from being appointed as the head of crime intelligence of the South African Police Service.

“The plotters, according to the evidence gathered … even tried to go back to the police station where commissioner Mdluli was working as the head of detectives, looking for an old case where a certain suspect was killed by an unknown person …”

Mdluli is currently on trial on charges relating to Ramogibe’s murder including intimidation, assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm, kidnapping and defeating the ends of justice. Mdluli claims the charges are part of a conspiracy against him.

In March, Ntlemeza was slammed by Pretoria High Court Judge Elias Matojane, who described him as lacking “integrity and honour”.

Matojane made the comments while dismissing an application brought by Ntlemeza who had sought leave to appeal the Pretoria court’s ruling in February when it overturned the suspension of Gauteng Hawks head Shadrack Sibiya.  Both Dramat and Sibiya were suspended pending investigations into their alleged involvement in the illegal rendition of several Zimbabwean nationals in late 2010 – some of whom were subsequently allegedly killed by Zimbabwean police.   

Sibiya was fired from the Hawks this week, after an internal hearing implicated him in the renditions – which he denied In his ruling Judge Matojane said: “I am of the view that the conduct of the third respondent shows that he is biased and dishonest. To show that the third respondent [Ntlemeza] is biased, lacks integrity and honour, he made false statements under oath.” 

But in contrast, Ntlemeza’s resume, attached to a press release following the minister’s announcement earlier, notes: “The General has a lot of achievements in crime detection and policing. He has investigated a number of cases dealing with vehicle theft, hijackings, ATM bombings with successful conviction rates. His work has assisted in the recovery and convictions in over 100 cases involving vehicle theft. The General has contributed in stabilising crime in a number of areas and Provinces including Gauteng, Eastern Cape and Limpopo.” 

While Nhleko noted: “I have no doubt that Gen Ntlemeza will continue the good work that the Hawks have become famous for and help government in fighting serious organised crime and corruption.”

According to some social media commentary during Nhleko’s announcement earlier, Ntlemeza reportedly said: “When you measure detectives now, I will be number one or number two”. It is unclear what Ntlemeza meant; although there has been speculation that the country’s national head of detectives Lieutenant-General Vinesh Moonoo wants to resign – allegedly because of a growing rift in his relationship with the National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega. 

However, Phiyega’s spokesman Solomon Makgale tersely dismissed the claim in a response to questions sent by amaBhungane to the police earlier this week. Makgale said: “There is an excellent working relationship between General Moonoo and the National Commissioner. For good measure, I put your questions to him and this was his response: ‘Yet another fishing expedition. Tell them I still have six years in the police before reaching retirement age’.”

See the full press statement here

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.