South Africa

South Africa

Police Minister Bheki Cele intervenes amid fresh claims of ‘rogue’ operations in Cape Town cop unit

Arrests, claims of ‘rogue’ operations and political meddling have pushed a controversial Cape Town policing unit into the national spotlight. And while Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis says the unit has helped maintain low corruption levels in the City’s policing sector, a prominent staffer faces charges in two criminal cases.

A controversial City of Cape Town police investigations unit, where a former cop criminally charged in two separate cases seems to have been based, is set to be investigated following fresh claims that it is in effect a rogue operation.

Police Minister Bheki Cele’s office has confirmed he will investigate the City’s Safety and Security Investigations Unit’s (SSIU’s) operations.

This comes after the Good party’s Brett Herron, previously a DA councillor, wrote to Cele requesting that he investigate.

“While the term ‘Rogue Unit’ is politically loaded, there is arguably no better description for Cape Town’s SSIU,” Herron said in a statement last week.

“The structure appears to be modelled on the national Special Investigating Unit (SIU). The SIU reports directly to the President, who is constitutionally empowered to proclaim investigations. In the Cape Town version, the President’s role is performed by [mayoral committee member for safety and security] JP Smith. There is no constitutional provision for special investigations units reporting to city councillors.”

This week, police ministry spokesperson Lirandzu Themba confirmed receipt of Herron’s letter and that “Minister Cele has made a decision to look into the matter”.

Meanwhile, the City’s JP Smith maintains the SSIU is legal.

“We’ve obtained legal opinion that confirms that the SSIU functions well within the law. The SSIU has never reported to a politician and reports to an Executive Director, as do all other line departments,” said Smith.

The controversy surrounding the SSIU fits into a broader picture of friction over policing between the DA-run City of Cape Town, which has a metro police service, and the national ANC government, which controls the overarching South African Police Service (SAPS).

It also fits into the murky arena of claims of rogue intelligence and police officers in the pay of criminals and operating within different tiers of government, problems that intensified during the State Capture years under Jacob Zuma’s presidency.

The City’s SSIU was previously known as the Special Investigating Unit.

Claims of ‘rogue’ unit in Cape Town

It made news headlines in 2017 when the City’s SIU was reportedly shut down. Then Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille, at the time with the DA, said the unit was overstepping its mandate.

In representations to the DA’s federal executive chair in 2018, De Lille said: “The powers of investigation which the [unit] appear to have accorded to itself, was impermissible and contrary to law.

“Alderman Smith used the [unit] contrary to the purpose that it was created for. Moreover, he acted with the intent to undermine his political opponents and this amounts to serious abuse for his own political gain.”

In May 2018, the unit was reinstated – it was reported that the National Council of Provinces accepted a motion to see that this took place.

Later that year, after intense infighting among DA figures, De Lille resigned from the party. She now heads the Good party and Herron is its secretary-general – and the Good party is now in effect pushing for the SSIU to be investigated.

This follows the arrest in December of a prominent Safety and Security Directorate staffer, former police officer Reynold Talmakkies, in a second criminal case involving him.

Talmakkies has been widely referred to in media reports as the unit’s head. However, while the City did not seem to publicly deny this before, Smith now says the SSIU always had another chief.

Last year, Daily Maverick asked the City whether Talmakkies headed the unit. It responded: “The City can confirm that Mr Talmakkies is still employed by the Safety and Security Directorate.”

Asked again last week if Talmakkies headed the unit, Smith at first did not reply. Daily Maverick subsequently resubmitted the question to the City.

Smith then responded: “Nyaniso Ngele is and always has been the Chief of the Safety and Security Investigations Unit. Mr Talmakkies has been alternatively placed within the Directorate.” (Nyaniso Ngele was previously listed on the Western Cape government’s site as the provincial head of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.)

Two ex-cops and two sets of criminal accusations

In April 2021, Daily Maverick revealed that Talmakkies was criminally charged in a case involving alleged docket tampering linked to a police station in Mpumalanga.

This fraud case appeared to date back to 2016 and involved allegations that certain matters were deliberately not being prosecuted, which in turn could be seen as manipulating crime statistics. Talmakkies pleaded not guilty.

The National Prosecuting Authority’s Mpumalanga spokesperson, Monica Nyuswa, told Daily Maverick that this case was set to resume in June 2022.

Talmakkies was arrested in a separate matter in December 2021. It was reported that he faced charges in Cape Town along with two others – Asif Khan, the director of a construction company, and Paul Scheepers, a former Crime Intelligence officer – in connection with tender fraud involving hundreds of millions of rands.

This week, Western Cape police spokesperson Colonel Andre Traut confirmed the case, saying: “The individuals as mentioned were arrested during December 2021 for fraud, defeating the ends of justice and obstruction [of justice].”

The trio was released on bail. They are expected back in the Bellville Regional Court in Cape Town in March. This is where the situation surrounding Talmakkies and the SSIU could develop into a far broader cop corruption issue.

Spy claims and politics

Paul Scheepers was previously the focus of another court case – in May 2015 he was arrested for, among others, allegedly violating the Electronic Communications Act for being in possession of, or buying, a surveillance device known as a “grabber”.

Scheepers also previously had dealings with the DA. In 2010, the DA awarded a tender to Scheepers’ private investigations company, Eagle Eye Solutions Technology, to debug cellphones.

At the time, the provincial government suspected its members were under surveillance by the State Security Agency. Countering this, the ANC claimed Scheepers was spying on rival politicians for then Western Cape premier Helen Zille – something she denied.

Scheepers’ name also cropped up in the murky world of corruption claims against police officers. In an affidavit from 2015, he claimed that “three of my informers reported to me on various occasions that a high-ranking officer in the SAPS regularly attends meetings with very well-known drug lords and criminal gang bosses… in the Western Cape”.

“The senior officer, on several occasions, received huge amounts of money for the exchange and delivery of drugs.”

However, questions were subsequently raised about whether the informers might have been coached to make statements to tarnish the reputation (thereby muddying the investigations) of the senior police officer, widely believed in cop circles to be Jeremy Vearey. Vearey was Western Cape detective head until being controversially fired at the end of May 2021.

Kinnear and rogue Crime Intelligence claims

Scheepers’ name was also linked to matters relating to Lieutenant-Colonel Charl Kinnear, who was assassinated outside his Bishop Lavis home in September 2021. At the time of his murder, Kinnear was investigating, among others, fellow cops.

In December 2018, Kinnear wrote a letter of complaint to his bosses about certain police officers in the Western Cape, some with links to Crime Intelligence.

He alleged they were working to frame him and some of his colleagues, including Vearey. Kinnear referenced Scheepers in this letter, claiming his phone calls were illegally tapped after he exposed a matter relating to Scheepers (he did not accuse Scheepers of bugging his calls).

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) last year found evidence suggesting a “rogue” unit of police officers had indeed operated in the Western Cape.

Ipid found that the provincial Crime Intelligence head Mzwandile Tiyo’s failure to “acknowledge or even attempt to arrest the suspicion of a rogue unit is questionable”.

Scheepers, while still in Crime Intelligence, would have worked in the same circles as Tiyo. The arrests of Scheepers and Talmakkies, both former police officers who subsequently did work for the City of Cape Town, are thus linked to two sets of rogue activity allegations – Herron’s claims that the city’s SSIU is a rogue unit, as well as Kinnear’s claims that officers in the Western Cape, with ties to Crime Intelligence, were working to frame him and cops close to him (who also happened to be investigating fellow police officers).

DA vs ANC policing spat

Last week, Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis added his voice to the SSIU saga.

“This unit was established in 1994 to address internal discipline, ensuring that the City of Cape Town maintains its record for the lowest levels of corruption among its policing and enforcement staff so that we do not degenerate into the bribe-taking chaos observed in police forces elsewhere in South Africa,” he said in a statement.

“It is because of the work done by the unit that the City of Cape Town maintains its record for the lowest levels of corruption among its policing and enforcement staff.”

Hill-Lewis detailed how the City planned to bolster policing and how Brett Herron seemed to be siding with Cele.

“Herron appears to be actively working to undermine Cape Town’s local policing powers in an effort to strengthen the hand of national Police Minister Bheki Cele… If he gets his way, criminals and corrupt cops will be let off the hook and residents will pay the price.”

Hill-Lewis did not mention the criminal charges faced by Talmakkies.

Daily Maverick previously reported that Hill-Lewis wants a police service run by the City. Cele is opposed to this and has taken swipes at the City of Cape Town’s law enforcement units – using the word ‘rogue’, much like Herron.

“The rogue conduct by certain Metros of creating parallel structures of law enforcement aimed at undermining the Constitution cannot be left unchallenged,” Cele said in September last year.

“The Western Cape government continues to sabotage the efforts of adequately resourcing legitimate structures like the Metro Police… Instead those resources are pumped to fund parallel structures which adds no value in policing,” Cele said. DM

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