Advocate Dan Teffo’s life may now be at greater risk than ever

‘Who will rid me of this turbulent priest’ — words attributed to King Henry II of England, referring to Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket

Almost a millennium after these words were supposedly uttered, elected political heads have replaced kings, and ecclesiastical courts have given way to secular ones. Although it is unlikely that Henry II used those same words, or intended to have Becket killed, his exasperation with the troublesome bishop was probably a pretext for Becket’s enemies to kill him. 

In September 2021, advocate Malesela Teffo was allegedly threatened with violence by Police Minister Bheki Cele, the occasional de facto head of the South African state — as when he overruled the president’s undertaking to give whistleblower Thabiso Zulu protection. 

Teffo has also made himself deeply unpopular with South African Police Service (SAPS) management through his legal defence of members victimised by the management oligarchy. 

Shortly after Cele’s threat, the persecution of “troublesome” Teffo commenced in earnest. Teffo recently took on two, high profile, criminal matters in which he avers police members and politicians are complicit in charging the wrong people — that is, those he is defending — and his life may now be at greater risk than ever. 

Most of Teffo’s legal work is in the labour law field, which seems to have led to the 2021 persecution. He is particularly well qualified to assist victimised police members because, prior to qualifying as a lawyer and becoming an advocate, he had been well trained as a recruit in the post-1994 SAPS. 

Police members who are subject to malicious disciplinary or criminal cases form a significant percentage of his clientele, and he is known to win his cases, but then has to take on further legal battles to get them reinstated. 

Police members he has assisted claim that he is despised by corrupt SAPS management members who do everything they can to prevent his representing them. They have even tried to stop him from “trespassing” in police buildings which, being public, are presumably not covered by the Trespass Act 

Malicious prosecutions and the crucial role of legal assistance 

Politics and nepotism have ruled the SAPS since 1994, and malicious prosecutions have been integral to management controls since then. The use of this tactic is on record in my research report on policing in 1999 (The More Things Change: Policing in the ‘New’ South Africa), and in voluminous correspondence in the 1990s, in KwaZulu-Natal, when it was used against the province’s best detectives for political reasons or to prevent their promotion. 

For example, the late Superintendent (Colonel) Mandla Vilakazi, was subject to malicious criminal and disciplinary charges when attempts to remove his team from mid-1990s investigations into political violence implicating North Coast Inkatha Freedom Party warlords (backed by right-wing police officers) failed. Legal assistance proved his innocence, and his team’s subsequent high court convictions were the single biggest contribution to the dramatic decrease in violent deaths in Mandeni and Mtubatuba.

When another, extremely competent, detective (retired colonel Sipho Mbele) made crucial arrests shortly after being deployed in violence-torn Richmond in the late 1990s, he was immediately withdrawn before the hand of ANC leaders could be revealed. He was then, together with his commander, the late Eric Nkabinde, maliciously charged. These charges not only neutralised them, but also stopped the appointment of KwaZulu-Natal’s most competent detective (Nkabinde) to head provincial detectives (they won civil damages against the police, the trial magistrate suggesting that the prosecutor bringing the charges should have been charged). 

During that same period, the jobs of 27 Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union police members were saved by legal intervention following an attempt by an old guard management member to dismiss them on spurious charges for political reasons. 

This tactic seems alive and well, not only in KwaZulu-Natal but country-wide, being used to complement routine irregular appointments and promotions. Spurious disciplinary charges were brought against employees of the forensic science laboratory, who blew the initial whistle, which led to fraud and corruption charges being brought against former laboratory head and acting national commissioner Khomotso Phahlane

At the same time, a successful disciplinary case against a senior member found guilty of promotion-related fraud was overturned by a senior management member. There is a large body of information about this practice in the heavily Ace Magashule-politicised police service in the Free State, where those who oppose — and try to expose — corruption are particularly targeted. 

These are among the members Teffo assists, Patricia Mashale being one of them. On 17 February, with his assistance, she won a labour court case to stop an expeditious disciplinary action against her based on the unfair labour law practice SAPS management regularly uses. Teffo estimates that dozens of members — all black — are affected in the same way, as expeditious disciplinary actions are used as prime means of dismissing members who fall foul of corrupt management. 

Continuing fears for Teffo’s safety 

On 1 November, Teffo was arrested at his Johannesburg home at about 4am, and, dressed in his pyjamas, taken to Johannesburg Prison. There he was “sentenced”, on 2 November, without appearing in court, for contempt of court. He had no knowledge of any such case against him. He was arrested by three police members, two of whom he claims were white apartheid-era security policemen. One of them has the same name as a notorious security police member. He surmised that after they had left the SAPS they had been re-enlisted, because details he procured showed their appointment date as 16 August 2021. 

He avers that the signature on their appointment cards is not that of national police commissioner Khehla Sitole. (There have been other allegations of the forging of Sitole’s signature, and even a name has been mentioned.) Teffo was released from prison and when he tried to check on these mysterious police members, he was told they had already resigned. 

He was arrested again on 16 November, apparently on a trespass charge when accompanying a client to provincial SAPS offices. He appeared in court on 19 November, but the bail application could not be heard because he had previously lodged a complaint against the magistrate to whom it had been allocated. When he re-appeared in another court on 22 November there was no docket, and the investigator (apparently acting on instructions — Teffo thinks those of the Gauteng provincial commissioner) again delayed on the pretext of verifying his residential address. 

When an incomplete docket appeared in court on 24 November, even the magistrate seemed confused and granted bail. 

Teffo believed these arrests were carried out on the orders of the minister of police. In addition to his police labour law work, he has now taken on the defence of accused men in two high profile, controversial cases. He believes that both cases could have serious implications for the minister and management members. 

One of these is the murder of soccer star Senzo Meyiwa, in which he is defending men he claims have been wrongly, and deliberately, charged to stop a planned private prosecution of the prime suspects in this murder. 

In the second matter, he is defending the men who are accused of murdering an underworld figure on the instructions of Radovan Krejcir, who is serving a prison sentence for kidnapping. He has taken on this case after perusing the evidence and being convinced of the innocence of these men who have been kept in prison awaiting trial for the past eight years. 

Teffo believes that this case, provided it is heard before a court that has not been tainted by political interference, has the potential to expose both senior police members and politicians in defeating the ends of justice. 

By taking on the minister of police and top SAPS management he is, like Archbishop Becket, operating in very dangerous waters, simply for trying to bring what is becoming an increasingly elusive goal: justice to people who are in desperate need of it. 

This is an edited version of an article that is scheduled to appear 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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