De Lille’s controversial Cape Town investigating unit ‘shut down’ could be reversed

Embattled Mayor Patricia de Lille’s decision to effectively shut down the City of Cape Town’s special investigations unit (SIU) in mid-2017, a move which unearthed an initial set of shocking claims against her, may be reversed.

This means several investigations which the unit was working on before De Lille clipped its wings may now continue and that the same team may pick up where they left off.

News24 has established that a subcommittee, chaired by the DA’s parliamentary chief whip John Steenhuisen and which was tasked with investigating De Lille’s leadership and growing divisions within the City of Cape Town caucus, has recommended the that SIU, which is now known as the safety and security internal investigations unit, revert to its former name.

It is understood that the subcommittee has also recommended that the unit’s previous operations be reinstated.

The unit is under the leadership of Cape Town mayoral committee member for safety, security and social services JP Smith.

Smith, speaking in his capacity as a mayoral committee member, told News24 on Monday that he was delighted that the DA’s federal executive had recommended the SIU revert back to its former name and functions.

‘We can’t lose the fight against crime’

“While the name is of little consequence, the ability to help win the fight against gangs, drugs and organised crime is something that we cannot afford to lose, especially while the criminal justice system under national government is achieving such poor conviction rates,” he said.

On Monday, the DA’s federal executive chairperson James Selfe told News24 it had decided not to release the subcommittee’s report.

“However, I can tell you that in terms of the matter of the SIU, the report recommended that the council caucus debates the role and function of the SIU or a similar body as part of its commitment to help the people of Cape Town to remain safe,” he said.

Questions emailed directly to Smith by News24 on Monday were responded to by the city’s executive director for safety and security, Richard Bosman.

“I have not had sight of this report and as such am unaware of the recommendations or the way forward,” Bosman said.

Changed mandate

Members of the SIU, which was created about five years ago, had investigated matters including gang violence, xenophobic attacks, corruption within the City council if a specific department requested this, as well as illegal protests and wildfires linked to arson.

The murders of councillors and illegal firearms were other matters investigated by the unit.

However, when its name and mandate changed around August 2017, the members’ functions were narrowed.

They were then tasked with only investigating serious misconduct matters and allegations of fraud and corruption by City staff within the safety and security directorate.

At the time, the City issued a statement saying it had discovered that the internal investigations unit was exceeding its mandate.

Shortly after it emerged in public that the SIU was effectively being shut down, De Lille issued a statement lashing out at Smith.

“We all know that crime-fighting is the responsibility of the SAPS under national government,” she said at the time.

“JP Smith wants to play cowboys and crooks by releasing all kinds of statements that the metro police [are] responsible for fighting crime.”

News of the order by De Lille to shut down the City’s SIU surfaced in September last year.

News24 previously obtained emails which appeared to prove this.

One, dated August 1, 2017, was from De Lille’s chief of staff to the City manager.

It read: “The mayor kindly requests written confirmation that the SIU has been shut down. If it has not been shut down yet, she would like to know why this is the case.”

READ MORE: Unpacking the City of Cape Town’s anti-crime unit saga 

A memorandum from the City manager, dated August 4, said the unit’s mandate had been clarified and its name changed.

Smith made a submission, dated August 20, 2017, about the SIU’s shut down to, among others, DA leader Mmusi Maimane.

In it, Smith said he tried to find out if there was a reason given for shutting down the unit.

He said his “first instincts” were that it could be due to claims by a councillor relating to an apparent police investigation into alleged dubious dealings by City employees with a company.

‘Not in the public’s interest’

Smith said in the submission that it was also suggested to him that it may have to do with the murder of DA ward councillor Xolile Gwangxu, who was shot dead in Philippi East in June 2017.

READ MORE: Patrollers in Marikana, Philippi East, live in fear after mass shooting

“According to SIU members… their investigation had turned up rumours of the possible involvement of councillors in the death of Cllr Gwangxu, but that nothing had been proven.”

In his submission, Smith stated that shutting down the SIU was not in the interest of the public.

“To claim that the SIU is not allowed to run the investigations they have been doing for years would mean that all other specialist units should stop,” it said.

Smith likened what was happening with the SIU to the same test the ANC faced when shutting down the Scorpions.

“If we have nothing to hide we should have no fear,” he said.

‘De Lille refused to work with Smith’

On Sunday, Maimane announced that De Lille would be formally charged and investigated.

He said the DA’s federal executive had looked into several matters, including “evidence of deep divisions within the caucus of the City of Cape Town”.

He said a charge of misconduct would be brought against De Lille.

Among the several matters this related to was that she “refused to accept an official decision of the party by informing the caucus of the City of Cape Town, upon the election of Ald JP Smith as deputy leader of the caucus, that she refused to work with him”.

Maimane’s announcement on Sunday followed months of serious claims and counterclaims among some of the City of Cape Town’s most senior staff, including De Lille. The claims involve allegations of intimidation, criminality and misconduct. — News 24

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