Although it is not “ideal” that the Directorate for Priority Crimes Investigation (DPCI, known as the Hawks) did not receive intelligence at the time of the July unrest that rocked KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, that did not stop the elite police unit from taking action, said its head, lieutenant general Godfrey Lebeya.
“When we [got] the information from [the] media or wherever, we were not leaving it unattended … We do not wait for the intelligence community before we can act,” Lebeya testified on Wednesday before the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) panel investigating the violence.
Commissioner advocate André Gaum put it to Lebeya that “South Africans largely depend on the DPCI to uncover through its investigations who the masterminds behind the July unrest were.”
To which Lebeya responded: “We lead the investigation in trying to uncover who is the mastermind and we do that in collaboration with the intelligence community and we appreciate the information that can come from the ordinary people who might shed light [on the investigations].”
Lebeya spoke a day after KwaZulu-Natal police head Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi told the hearings that provincial police had called for military reinforcements, realising that their numbers did not match the magnitude of what was unfolding “because it was just us, nobody else”.
On Wednesday, evidence leader Yanela Ntloko asked Lebeya whether he had received any intelligence from the State Security Agency or crime intelligence during or before the unrest.
Echoing previous testimony from other senior law enforcement and government officials, Lebeya said no written intelligence was provided and he received intelligence only after the unrest.
Lebeya added that he had his first meeting with the minister of police and other security stakeholders only on 19 July.
By then it was more than a week after violent protests and looting had ravaged large parts of KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng, resulting in 359 people dead and causing an estimated R50-billion worth of damage.
Asked whether it was sufficient to receive intelligence only after the events, Lebeya responded: ”The DPCI would have been happy to receive intelligence; that would have helped with the investigations … it would have been an ideal situation.”
KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala previously told the commission that the provincial government relied on social media, mainstream media and a pamphlet calling for a provincial shutdown.
“Before the outbreak, there was no information received from any crime intelligence structure on the imminent threat in KwaZulu-Natal indicating its context, nature and the need to prepare the security clusters response accordingly,” Zikalala said.
On Wednesday, the number of arrests by the Hawks after the unrest came under the spotlight.
Lebeya confirmed no members within the South African Police Service, South African National Defence Force or State Security Agency had been implicated in ongoing investigations “at this stage”.
The Hawks are assisting in 24 cases, including 12 criminal dockets; information is still being sought for the other 12. Of the 12 criminal dockets, seven are already in court while five are under investigation. Lebeya said an eight accused person had been arrested on Tuesday and was expected to appear in the Roodepoort magistrate’s court on Thursday.
He said of the seven cases in court, three people were from Gauteng, and two each from KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State.
The commission’s public hearings into the July unrest are set to continue on Thursday before concluding on Friday, having run for three weeks.