Cop watchdog failed
South Africa’s police watchdog knew about alleged murders committed by the so-called Cato Manor “death squad” in 2008, but put the investigation on the back burner.
In the years that followed, scores more people were allegedly executed by members of Durban’s organised crime unit.
Officers from the unit are now standing trial for their alleged crimes in Durban and have been implicated in more than 50 murders.
City Press can today reveal that the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), formerly the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD), was told four years ago about the unit’s alleged crimes.
The information has emerged amid revelations by the IPID’s head of ethics that 81% of the cases closed by the police watchdog over the past two years were closed as “unsubstantiated” – many without a proper investigation.
The IPID has denied the allegations and insists the case closure rate is a misrepresentation of the organisation’s statistics.
City Press has obtained a copy of a document submitted to the IPID in which lawyer Nathi Shozi pleads for an investigation to “protect the lives and constitutional rights” of members of the KwaMaphumulo Taxi Association.
“We fear that the current trend of killing suspects is likely to continue unless decisive action is taken,” he wrote.
The complaint is stamped as “received” by the IPID on September 26 2008, shortly before a further 10 suspects in various cases were killed, allegedly by members of the Cato Manor unit.
Sources inside the IPID say members of the unit were only arrested after reports by the Sunday Times in December led to the involvement of the Hawks in the investigation.
In 2008, Shozi reported, among others, the deaths of KwaMaphumulo taxi boss Magojela Ndimande and his bodyguard, Sibusiso Tembe, who were killed on the N3 highway in Howick, KwaZulu-Natal, on September 16 2009.
This was one of the first killings by the unit to be officially reported to the police watchdog.
The Sunday Times reported that witnesses said “the police fabricated claims of a shoot-out” in the killing of Ndimande and Tembe.
But a subsequent ICD investigation report, which City Press has seen, notes that an investigator “attended the shooting at Howick…and exhibits were found on the scene – high-calibre firearms that were allegedly used by suspects to attack the police”.
“There were no witnesses to refute the police version so the shooting was deemed justified until new evidence comes to light.”
The case was closed as unsubstantiated by then IPID acting provincial head Sipho Nene on March 30 2009.
This is just one of at least six of the Cato Manor cases involving the KwaMaphumulo Taxi Association killings that were closed as “unsubstantiated” by the IPID.
City Press has seen part of a complaint which was submitted to the Public Protector by IPID Ethics and Risk Management head Amar Maharaj in March this year.
It lists seven cases which were allegedly “finalised” after it was found that the shootings were all “justified”.
The complaint notes that attorneys for the “Maphumulo Taxi Association approached the Durban ICD offices and submitted a detailed statement of their experiences, but no attention was paid and the matter was treated as not serious and soon afterwards another shooting occurred”.
Moses Dlamini, IPID spokesperson, denied that cases had been “abandoned”, but confirmed that some case files were closed.
“Witnesses were intimidated and told they would be killed if they spoke to investigators. Scenes were also tampered with,” he said.
“Under these circumstances, is it surprising that some cases were closed?”
Dlamini said cases that were closed were taken to the director of public prosecutions for a decision, while others were still investigated.
“When there was no evidence to support prosecution, such matters would become inquests,” said Dlamini.
He added that there were “many cases” which were inquests when the IPID set up a team to review cases involving the Cato Manor unit in December.
Maharaj has also reported what he calls a “misrepresentation” of statistics to the Public Protector, based on complaints he received.
A source in the Western Cape IPID provincial office told City Press officials that they were last month called into the boardroom where quality controls of IPID files were being completed en masse in order to close them.
The source said this was a repeat of what happened last year, when staff members learned that a visit from auditors was imminent.
“They just told us that we must get it done because the auditors were on their way,” the source said.
According to the directorate’s 2010/11 statistics, 4 635 of the 5 695 (81%) cases the IPID closed that year were closed as unsubstantiated.
Dlamini said that this was not an accurate representation.
He said the number of cases closed as unsubstantiated had to be compared to the total workload of cases.
Dlamini said this meant about 55% of cases were closed as unsubstantiated.
According to this calculation, the IPID could only substantiate complaints made against police in a little over 10% of the cases before it in that financial year.
According to the yearly report, the workload (including new and carried-over matters) was 8 424 cases for 2010/11.
Dlamini said the bulk of unsubstantiated case closures fell under misconduct complaints against the police during service delivery protests that had “already been dealt with by courts or the police”.
Dlamini said the ICD had a high completion rate (87%), which refers to the number of investigative activities it completes in respect of its workload.
“Closure of a case is the very last step. We don’t view closure and completion as the same thing,” he said.