The police generals and brigadiers seated in a row at the Moerane commission of inquiry witness table might not have been in uniform but there was no mistaking the fact that they had brought the infamous blue wall to the hearings into causes of political violence in KwaZulu-Natal.
Rather than providing the commission — appointed to probe the murders of political office bearers since 2016 — with detailed responses to months of witness claims of complicity, the South African Police Service (SAPS) brass appeared to stonewall the commission with bureaucratic responses and buck-passing while trying to run the clock down.
The two days of evidence from Major General Dumezweni Chiliza, the Umlazi cluster commander responsible for policing the notorious Glebelands Hostel, and police human resources and detective heads, did little to provide answers about the wave of political killings that had sparked the commission’s appointment.
Instead, Chiliza went about absolving the police from responsibility for failure to solve the almost 100 murders at the hostel, to Umlazi in south Durban, challenging evidence from previous witnesses that the killings were politically motivated and that patronage is preventing the police from arresting them.
Chiliza was unable to provide any detail of how many political killings had taken place at Glebelands, saying he did not have statistical evidence of that kind at his disposal.
Chiliza said that, although part of the problem at Glebelands stemmed from “political tensions within the tripartite alliance”, there were other factors too, including the rental of beds. The failure of the eThekwini municipality to evict criminals also added to the problem.
Chiliza defended the police’s role in Glebelands, saying that even the deployment of 1 000 police officers in the area would not stop the killings. He appeared stuck for answers when pressed by Marumo Moerane SC about the murder of hostel resident Sipho Ndovela at the Umlazi Magistrate’s Court in 2015 while under police guard, saying he had only heard about it afterwards. Police had been repeatedly warned of an impending hit on Ndovela, but Chiliza denied having received these warnings.
“It was a shock to us when we heard he was killed,” Chiliza said. He was also unable to explain what had happened to the police escort that had left Ndovela at court.
“There was a disciplinary inquiry for the officers, but I do not know what the outcome was,” he said.
Chiliza also denied claims that the police had delayed providing bodyguards for councillors under threat, saying that there was “no delay on the SAPS”.
“In most cases the delay is between the municipal manager and that other person. At the end of the day the municipal manager had a response long ago but the SAPS gets the blame,” he said.
Witnesses from Umzimkhulu and other municipalities had testified that delays of up to six months in getting police protectors were the reason councillors had been killed.
Pressed on the failure of political cases, Chiliza said that, although prosecutions were the terrain of the National Prosecuting Authority, the police were blamed for their failure. “The police are the gatekeepers of the criminal justice system. We are the ones who are going to take the blame for anything. At the end of the day there is going to be a scapegoat,” Chiliza said. “If a person is acquitted on a certain technicality, at the end of the day the police are going to take the blame for something that is beyond our control.”
Major General Hendrick Chauke and Chiliza were also unable to respond to evidence from former Premier Senzo Mchunu that police in the province had declared him a suspect in the murder of his bodyguard, Xolani Nkosi, despite evidence to the contrary. Commissioner Vasu Gounden said all indications were that the police from the province had attempted to set Mchunu up.
They were lost for words when Gounden described the incident as “the most chilling piece of evidence this commission has heard”.
“If the premier is that vulnerable, who am I as a private citizen?” Gounden asked.
Police counsel Thembinkosi Ngcobo said two brigadiers who were part of the police delegation, Bongani Maqashalala and Tebogo Mbhele, would give detailed responses on March 12.
Acting provincial commissioner Major General Bheki Langa will give evidence on the same date. The commission is due to submit its report to Premier Willies Mchunu on March 27.