Does the police service want corruption-fighting whistleblower Patricia Mashale to ‘disappear’?

Under the guiding hand of police minister and disgraced former national police commissioner Bheki Cele, the South African Police Service has been increasingly following in the same brutal, corrupt footsteps as its apartheid predecessor. 

As then, it does not hesitate to turn on its own. In the early 1990s, a security police officer was murdered before he could expose his white colleagues who were stealing petrol from police stores. 

The corruption appetites of the new power elite have “grown with the eating”, according to political analyst Paulus Zulu, and it is the very many police officers who take seriously their oaths of office to report any suspected wrongdoing to management, regardless of who the wrongdoer is, that are in the firing line. 

In the Free State, senior administrator Patricia Mashale, is at the front of this line. The usual weapon is dismissal using unfair labour practice or expeditious disciplinary actions, but the way in which Mashale has been targeted by her colleagues during the past few months points to her own life, and possibly the lives of family members, being in danger. She has now heard there are plans to arrest her on a trumped-up charge of perjury and remove her to somewhere far away from her home without registering details on the police system. She fears that they want to make her “disappear”.

As a senior and experienced administrator in a unit dedicated to priority crimes, Mashale has dutifully reported corruption, including irregular appointments and promotions, and firearms-related criminality, to her line managers or the Hawks. The current wave of persecution started after she sent a dossier on corruption in disciplinary hearings, and how they were being used to settle scores, to the national police commissioner, Khehla Sitole, in January 2021. 

It was never acted on, but details were probably leaked to his former Free State colleagues. Initially a charge of misconduct for reporting to Sitole was opened, but it was not pursued. Then a case of harassment was opened against her by one of those she had named in the dossier, and her personal cell phone was illegally seized by police officers. Months later it has not been returned to her, despite the illegality of the seizure having been drawn to the attention of the national head of legal services six weeks ago, with the request that it be returned. 

She is also under surveillance. On 21 November, the car she usually drives to collect her son from a boarding school a long distance away, which was driven by her older son, was followed all the way home by police officers in unmarked vehicles who, on finding that she was not in the car, lost interest. Severely traumatised, she sought professional assistance and, when she handed in her medical certificate, was instructed to ask her therapist to put the diagnosis “depression” on it. He refused to do so. 

In January, she was informed that she would have to attend an expeditious disciplinary hearing, to be chaired by one of the members whose irregular promotion she had reported, leading to its reversal. The Human Rights Commission has intervened, having given her whistleblower status. Two weeks ago she discovered that the personal phone she is now using has been hacked. She cannot access her emails, and her bank has informed her that her personal details have been leaked. 

This latest development, the threat of an unprocedural arrest, is linked to the harassment case opened against her in 2020. Having obtained a protection order herself against the management member, Mashale has challenged his action through a rescission application, which, following several postponements, is set to be heard on 13 April. She has been informed that the charge she now faces is one of perjury for submitting an affidavit to the family court stating that the protection order obtained against her had been set aside — which it has been pending her rescission application to be heard, together with the management member’s matter, in April. 

Mashale has been giving her support to hundreds of Free State officers who have been irregularly dismissed. Advocate Malesela Teffo, from whom she and others receive legal assistance, has won many cases to reinstate illegally dismissed workers and the police service refuse to reinstate them, despite several labour court orders. They have now discovered that despite supposedly having been dismissed, these officers have never received dismissal letters signed by the national police commissioner, and their details are still reflected on the police service’s administrative systems. Their contributions to the Government Employees Pension Fund and the South African Revenue Service continue, but they are not receiving their salaries.

Who is pocketing their salaries? They have attempted to open fraud and corruption charges against police management but have allegedly been told to change their statements before cases are registered. At least one other police officer has been threatened with malicious, and serious, criminal charges. 

Like Teffo, Mashale has been drawing the attention of the parliamentary committee and the presidency to these abuses for years but no action whatsoever has been taken against Cele, who is responsible for allowing criminality to flourish in the police service. 

Sitole has become a scapegoat but the rot is far more widespread. Until there is a forensic audit of all management members and their qualifications, nothing will change. The removal of Sitole must also be accompanied by a forensic investigation of Free State police management, and all allegations of illegal conduct. Unless these steps are taken, immediately, the insatiable corruption appetites will continue to flourish, many competent and experienced officers will be lost, and violent crime will continue its destructive path. 

Mashale fears that the criminal police tactics used in the arrest of Teffo by apartheid-era police officers, leading to his detention in prison for 10 days without having appeared in court, will be used against her, possibly with lethal consequences. Why, despite its supposed support for the Constitution, the rule of law, and whistleblowers, and its anti-corruption rhetoric, have all of those who could have acted to protect her and prosecute wrongdoers not done so? 

Her persecution, and the threat she is now facing, must lead to immediate action at the highest levels of government to ensure her protection, while simultaneously initiating concerted action to root out the endemic criminality which festers at all levels of the police service and poses a threat to the lives of all South Africans. 

This is an edited version of an article that appears on Mary de Haas’s website, https://www.violencemonitor.com/

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Mary de Haas
Mary de Haas is an advocate and an activist for political and human rights, human dignity and social justice

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