17 June 2024 | 11:41 AM

Xolobeni murder: Hawks General fingered for shutting down investigation

Nonhle Mbuthuma, spokesperson of ACC (in blue jersey). Bazooka Radebe, late Chair of ACC; (speaking) Mike Jali and Bekeni Danca: Indunas in the Headwoman’s traditional Council on the Amadiba coast (sitting listening)

Key Takeaways

  • Complaint about failed investigation into killing of Xolobeni community leader Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Radebe is set to dog top cop.
  • Unsigned document raises doubts about how Major-General Gopaul ‘Gopz’ Govender approached the high profile probe.
  • Govender declines to comment, but police watchdog may want answers.

Major-General Gopaul ‘Gopz’ Govender, the recently appointed head of the Directorate for Priority Crimes Investigation (DPCI) in Limpopo, has been accused of attempting to close down the investigation of the murder of “Bazooka” Radebe, the late chair of the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC).

Before his promotion in December 2022, Govender had served as Eastern Cape Provincial Commander for the Serious Organised Crime unit of the Hawks. During this time he took over control of the Bazooka investigation from mid-2017 until about 15 February 2021, when Govender effectively abandoned the case by sending an inquest docket to Mbizana Magistrates Court.

Govender allegedly favoured an informal inquest – a procedure that would normally be appropriate when a death cannot be ascribed to an act or failure by any person, for instance if the deceased committed suicide.

Bazooka was killed when two men who said they were policemen came to his workshop and insisted he accompany them; when he resisted they shot him multiple times and fled in a hijacked car.

The car had been hijacked in Port Edward in KwaZulu Natal. Two South African tourists heard but did not see the murder (one was locked in the boot, one was on the floor in the back seat) and escaped unharmed when the car was later abandoned.

There has never been an arrest, though the ACC has always alleged Bazooka’s murder was most likely motivated by his opposition to mining at Xolobeni, where an Australian firm and its local backers want to dredge the pristine coastal dunes for heavy minerals.

The case was always fraught with political undertones, as amaBhungane’s report on the killing and its aftermath showed.

Now Govender’s efforts to close the case have been called into question, notably in light of the emergence of a so-called “information note” which appears to have been prepared to justify his decision to his then superior, Major-General Obed Ngwenya, head of the Hawks in the Eastern Cape.

The information note, which amaBhungane has seen, is attached to a detailed affidavit and complaint submitted by Dr Dick Forslund, an economist at the Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC), who is married to Nonhle Mbuthuma – one of the leaders of the ACC.

The affidavit recounts a litany of alleged missteps and misinformation associated with the investigation, culminating in the information note, which Forslund alleges provides grounds for Govender to be investigated for defeating the ends of justice.

The copy seen by amaBhungane is unsigned, but is addressed to Ngwenya on Govender’s letterhead. If genuine, it is an extraordinary document.

Despite receiving very detailed questions based on the information note and the affidavit, neither Govender nor Ngwenya were prepared to comment.

They both took the position that the matter was sub judice.

AmaBhungane has established that a complaint has been registered by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate under number CCN2023030199 after a criminal case had been opened in East London as CAS 560/02/2023.

It is not yet clear whether IPID believes Govender – or any other policeman – has a case to answer.

However, while the information note claims everything was done by the book in the Bazooka investigation, it has two distinct threads that arguably show bias and unprofessionalism on the part of Govender, then a brigadier.

Firstly, it magnifies claims about potential other motives for the murder of Bazooka while minimizing the importance of his role in the ACC and the mining dispute.

Secondly, it attempts in quite a crude fashion to undermine the credibility of Forslund and the integrity of the private investigation that he helped put together and raise funding for.

The information note

Badmouthing Bazooka

Some of the flavour of the approach taken in the information note is provided by excerpts dealing with Bazooka and the motive for his assassination, which give the impression of a deliberate smear.

The second paragraph states, “The deceased at that stage was a controversial person in the greater Bizana District… as he was heavily involved in the taxi industry and was the chairman for many years, when taxi violence was at the highest.”

It goes on, “He [Bazooka] was also linked to the Marakana Killing in Limpopo through the Marakana Sangoma that was shot and killed in the Bizana area of the deceased.”

In his affidavit attached to the complaint, Forslund clarifies that Govender is referring to the 24 March 2013 murder of Mr Alton Joja (aka “Ndzabe”, aka “The Sangoma from Marikana”).

Forslund notes, “Bazooka was allegedly called in by the police for questioning after the murder of Mr Joja, a reason being an argument in or about November 2012 concerning 10 taxis that Mr Joja had placed in traffic in Mbizana. In their argument, Mr Joja allegedly threatened Bazooka who then went to the police in Bizana to report it.”

Another man was later arrested and charged for the Joja murder, something Govender must have known.

Disparaging Forslund

In paragraph four, the information note extends the smear. It questions the credentials of the ACC and implies Forslund is a dirty old man.

It states, “It was also alleged that he [Bazooka] was the chairperson of’ the Anti-Mining Committee — Amadiba Crises Committee (ACC) that was propagandered by an old foreign white male by the name of Mr Dick Foslund. This white male was allegedly married to a young Xhosa female by the name of Nonthele.”

Later on, the note, which Govender has not disavowed, goes even further, saying, “What became evident during the investigation is that the White man Mr Dick was using the Xhosa lady and ACC as a springboard for sourcing international funding on behalf of this murder case. He started sourcing millions of rand from international donors on behalf of the ACC and using this murder investigation as a leverage to get money.”

In his affidavit Forslund sets out how disingenuous these claims are.

He notes: “As anyone… in Mbizana knows, Bazooka was the Chair of Amadiba Crisis Committee since its foundation in 2007. Brig Govender put this fact into question with the word ‘alleged’. Bazooka worked in that position at the time of his death, closely cooperating with Nonhle and Mzamo Dlamini in the ACC leadership. The three met frequently to discuss ACC matters. A meeting was scheduled at 7pm in Bazooka’s house on the day of the murder. It was cancelled because of Nonhle’s and my son being ill.”

Elsewhere Forslund remarks, “The ACC doesn’t need to be ‘propagandered’ by the old foreign white male. The ACC claims over 2000 members on the Amadiba coast. The ACC is widely known in Eastern Cape and the whole country, not least for successfully blocking the ‘Xolobeni Mining Project’ in Court.”

He adds, “Brig Govender knows that Nonhle and I are married, but writes ‘allegedly married’… he met Nonhle and myself on 24 May 2019… at the Port Edward police station for a 3-hour meeting [purported to be about Nonhle’s security]… Responding to one officer, Brig Govender told him I am Nonhle’s husband…”

Forslund explains that the private investigating agency, the iFirm, was engaged to assist with the investigation in August 2016 after a R500,000 grant from the Raith Foundation and that another investigator, Shane Moodley & Associates, also did work, both firms at reduced rates and some of the work pro bono.

Defaming the iFirm

The information note is particularly scathing about the iFirm.

It says, “[Forslund] subsequently employed two ex SAPS generals, General [Mzwandile] Petros and General [Thulani] Ntobela of i-Firm to get inside information from the criminal dockets in order use the information to request donor funding. He did succeed to a certain extent when the two ex-generals manipulated a former SAPS General Molo, who was the then Provincial Head of SAPS Detectives of the Eastern Cape, to corruptly make copies of the content of the criminal docket and give it to them.

What is abundantly clear, is that the reports the iFirm, the private investigator, was submitting was because of their financial benefits that they were receiving payment upon

producing such reports to the white man, Mr Dick.”

In his affidavit, Forslund responds: “Brig Govender defames Generals Ntobela and Petros, who had no financial gains from the investigation other than from working at reduced rates. They for example attended to the case pro bono from August 2017 to January 2018.”

He explains that private monitoring of the investigation was justified from the start because of the attitude of the local detectives, including members of the Hawks.

Forslund recounts how Bazooka’s son Tarzan began to suspect a cover-up when the investigating DPCI officer, on 24 March 2016 at the Bizana morgue, had floated the opinion that it wasn’t necessary to search for ballistic evidence in the body of the deceased as the father in the family was dead anyhow.

These suspicions hardened when, Forslund alleges, DPCI in Bizana refused to bring in and interrogate prima facie suspects identified quite early on, and later when DPCI in Bizana blocked the lodging of two crucial subpoenas to telecoms service providers.

Forslund notes that it is common practice in the overstretched SAPS to accept assistance from private investigators, especially when they are experienced ex-cops.

He points out that private assistance in the Bazooka investigation was canvassed with senior police officers on a number of occasions, including with the KwaZulu Natal head of Organised Crime on 16 September 2021, with General David Molo before his retirement in June or July 2017, and in a meeting in November 2017 with the then Acting Head of the DPCI, Lt Gen Yolisa Matakata (today Mokgabudi).

Forslund reveals that at that meeting Matakata agreed the investigation should be moved to DPCI in Port Shepstone because it appeared blocked by politics in EC. He says that on 18 December 2017, General Petros telephoned as agreed the Acting Head of DPCI in EC, Major-General Zinhle Mnonopi, asking about the transfer.

According to General Ntobela her answer was: “What is it that is so important with this case? There are murders every day”.

The docket was not moved.

Govender gets involved

Even Govender initially appeared well disposed towards the private investigation.

On 6 July 2017, then Brigadier Govender met retired generals Ntobela and Petros of the The iFirm for a handover of their findings and to agree on the way forward.

Forslund recalls, “The Generals reported back to Nonhle, Mzamo and myself… They told us that Brig Govender had said there had been a cover-up. Brig Govender told the private investigators that a team had arrived from Pretoria after 22 March 2016 “to block the investigation”. (Govender later denied to Forslund at the meeting in Port Edward that he had suggested there was any cover up.)

The generals reported that Govender also agreed to combine the still separated hijacking and murder dockets: “Gen Ntobela recalls that Brig Govender called Captain Dindi of the DPCI office in Bizana about it during the meeting, telling him to combine the dockets into one, as they were about the same case.”

Ending the artificial separation between the hijacking case (with a KwaZulu Natal jurisdiction) and the murder case (with an Eastern Cape jurisdiction) was regarded as a key breakthrough. 

According to Forslund, Govender also agreed to interview the hijacking victims again as the private team had established that they had important extra information to give.

The generals believed they were all “on the same page” regarding the way forward.

That impression was wrong.

Forslund states, “A couple of weeks later retired General Ntobela reported that Brig Govender had stopped answering his calls and emails despite the agreement they would stay in contact.”

No progress, no cooperation – even with Crime Intelligence

When the second private investigating team under Moodley took over, they could not get any further either due to a lack of cooperation from the DPCI in EC, Forslund alleges.

Frustration grew to the point that in 2019 the Radebe family lawyer, Henk Smith, sought a meeting with the then newly appointed head of Crime Intelligence Lieutenant-General Peter Jacobs.

Jacobs and Smith knew each other from when Jacobs was imprisoned on Robben Island, and Smith as a young attorney had come to Jacobs’ assistance.

Jacobs was concerned enough to order a counter-intelligence team to probe whether there was any merit to the allegations that the Bazooka investigation had been sabotaged from inside the SAPS in EC.

Forslund claims, “The approached officers refused to cooperate… As a leader of the investigation, Brig Govender for his part repeatedly refused to show the Cl-team the docket.

“Indeed, on or about 25 September 2020, I talked with Warrant Officer ‘Stompie’ Sonnekus (Ret.) In 2016, he worked at the DPCI in Port Shepstone and engaged in the Bazooka investigation for a couple of weeks after the incident… I called Sonnekus about the Cl-team, as they might contact him. He then told me that he recently met with Brig Govender in court. He said that Brig Govender had told him not to speak with the Cl-team.”

Forslund says it became clear that by the end of 2020 the Cl investigation had reached an impasse: “We got the impression that the Counter Intelligence branch… doesn’t have the power to impose its requests on other branches of SAPS.”

In the information note (supposedly penned by Govender) the CI intervention is portrayed in quite a different light. It notes:

My belief is that Crime Intelligence should be providing the investigation team with any Intelligence Information or remote evidence to enhance the investigation and not requesting evidence out of a criminal docket that is to be used in a court of law… during our investigation process it became apparent that Private Investigators (retired senior officers —Generals ) have approached many CI policemen to source information from this investigation for financial gain.”

Enter General Ngwenya

Around the beginning of 2021, the iFirm’s General Ntobela alerted the new head of the DPCI in the Eastern Cape, General Ngwenya, that the Radebe family and the ACC alleged that the Bazooka murder investigation had been blocked and that he shared their belief.

According to Forslund, General Ngwenya then requested the docket from Brigadier Govender.

Forslund states, “On or about 26 January, Gen Ngwenya sent officers to Brig Govender’s home to fetch the Bazooka investigation docket. Brig Govender had previously said he was in Covid isolation and for time being couldn’t deliver the docket to Gen Ngwenya.”

In the meantime, Smith [the family attorney] and Forslund were able to obtain a meeting with the NPA’s Advocate Margaretha Brits on Tuesday 9 February 2021.

Forslund adds, “As for the docket, Adv Brits told us that Gen Ngwenya finally had got it on 8 February, the day before we met her.”

Forslund says Brits told them a meeting about the matter had been arranged for a week later between herself, the regional Director of Public Prosecution Advocate Barry Madolo and General Ngwenya.

Smith later recorded his understanding of the meeting in a letter to the NPA, noting, ”Adv Brits proposed that a matter of this kind should be investigated and prosecuted by an ad hoc team consisting of a senior prosecutor and senior DPCI investigator from each of the two relevant provinces ie Eastern Cape and KZN, and the NPA national office.”

That did not happen.

Instead, according to Forslund, Govender intervened in two ways to try to torpedo further investigation.

He alleges that on the evening of the meeting (9 February) a raid was conducted on Tarzan Radebe (Bazooka’s son).

The police confiscated the handgun of his late father and Tarzan was charged for its illegal possession, though the case has gone nowhere.

Forslund claims that General Ngwenya told General Ntobela later in a phone conversation that the raid had been ordered by Brig Govender as a part of the Bazooka investigation, though Forslund sees it as part of an effort to disrupt the family’s efforts to get to the truth and receive justice.

Govender’s other action, Forslund contends, was to try to hurriedly close the Bazooka investigation by sending it for an informal inquest at the Mbizana Magistrates Court on about 15 February.

The information note states, “The DPP of Umtata jurisdiction, Mr Barry Madolo, was engaged and he requested that the docket be prepared for an informal inquest hearing. However due to our office being affected by the very high number of COVID positive cases and multiple closure of our offices have hampered the finalization of the inquest docket.”

The information note appears to set out Brig Govender’s motivation for this action, which Forslund believes was triggered by the meeting on 9 February at the NPA offices aimed at reigniting the investigation.

Forslund claims that the information note was prepared as an attempt to justify the lack of progress in the case and the decision to forward the docket for an informal inquest.

NPAs odd role

Forslund adds, “I also contend that prosecutors in Eastern Cape have assisted in the attempt to continue the cover-up out of fear, negligence, sense of impunity, ‘esprit de corps’, political convictions or a combination of such factors, depending on the individual case.”

That allegation might sound like a stretch, but in answers to questions from amaBhungane the Eastern Cape NPA stated:

“Following representations made to the office of the DPP, senior prosecutors, including Control Prosecutor, Senior Public Prosecutor and the Chief Prosecutor, took charge, which resulted in the inquest held in 2021. The magistrate held that the death was brought about by an act or omission involving or amounting to an offence on the part of an unknown person.”

This account appears to ignore the fact that the key representation made to the NPA was a request for further investigation.

The NPA told amaBhungane, “The prosecution’s decision to take the informal inquest route was the best under the circumstances. it would not be possible to hold a formal inquest as there are no suspects.  There is nothing the NPA can do at this stage unless new leads, evidence or information, is handed to SAPS, under oath, and brought to the prosecution.  The purpose of the inquest is exactly that of getting any evidence that may exist, and or may have been overlooked.”

Yet that does not seem to be what happened.

The family and their lawyers were not even aware that their representations had been discounted and an informal inquest held, with no opportunity for them to give input.

On 26 March 2021, Smith went to Advocate Brits’s office in Mthatha for an agreed meeting.

According to Forslund’s account, he argued that referring the matter for an inquest was premature because the investigation was far from completed.

Adv Bits allegedly agreed to a virtual meeting on 1 April with herself and the prosecutors responsible for the inquest procedure, which the family thought was in abeyance.

On 31 March, however, she wrote to Smith that “The update meeting on 1 April 2021 at 10h00 need to be rescheduled — I will let you know of the new dates.”

But there were no further messages from Adv. Brits about new dates.

Forslund writes, “Little did we know that an informal inquest already had been done by then… Indeed, during the whole of 2021, Smith, Gen Ntobela and myself thought that the informal inquest was still pending.”

A second investigation

Unaware that the informal inquest had been finalised the legal team continued to lobby the new provincial DPCI commander (Ngwenya) to continue with the investigation.

Smith and Forslund met on 15 April with Ngwenya and two Generals from the DPCI Head Office in Pretoria. Ngwenya promised to get back to them with a decision.

In the meantime, Ngwenya would have received Govender’s information note (if indeed it was ever sent), which cast doubt on the bona fides of Forslund and the private investigators and maintained that everything that could be done on the case had been done under Govender’s watch.

If the information note did reach General Ngwenya, it failed in persuading him all avenues were exhausted.

At any rate, in about August 2021 he ordered a restart to the Bazooka investigation with a team led by a new investigating officer (I/O) seconded from DPCI in the Western Cape.

Forslund notes, “We met the I/O and one of the team members first time on 18 September 2021… During the meeting [he] also made sure to request all the cell phone data subpoenaed in 2016, which the service providers had kept archived. He had to do that because Brig Govender hadn’t handed over the original docket with all its material. This is the case until this day. The I/O has built his docket from the inquest docket that contained no technical documentation.”

It may be that Govender never handed over the investigation docket because Ngwenya never informed him of the new investigation. We don’t know because both generals declined to comment.

Forslund says the new I/O made progress in the investigation after interviewing selected individuals who had never before been heard. On 3 June 2022 he suggested to the NPA in Mthatha that charges should be brought against a suspect for conspiracy to commit murder.

“After consulting with Tarzan, Smith and myself met the new I/O on 21 November 2022 in East London. We were informed that an Advocate “Moloto” of NPA in Mthatha had called him two weeks earlier saying that the evidence wasn’t satisfactory to press charges. The new I/O said he hadn’t got a written decision or any advice from NPA.

“In January 2023, it however became dear that the new I/O probably had been ordered to abandon the investigation.”

Unfinished business

The unsigned information note on Govender’s letterhead states: “Between April 2016 and 1 January 2017 the task team was deployed to the Bizana area at great cost to the DPCI. A Iot of investigations, follow-ups and gathering of information and intelligence was done, but at that stage, nobody could be linked [to the murder] through ballistics, fingerprints or cell phone analysis.”

Forslund sets out why he believes this claim is ill-founded and misleading.

He states, “Such analytic linking by means of cell phone mast dump and call data was done by DPCI in Port Shepstone in September and October 2016 assisted by interviews of informers… done by the team of the iFirm. Five prima facie suspects were identified within six weeks from the start of the iFirm’s work on 3 September 2016. But the DPCI in Bizana was owning the case and refused to arrest the suspects or take them in for interviews.”

In addition, Forslund argues that certain crucial cellphone evidence was never subpoenaed at all, neither by Govender nor by the second investigation.

Forslund adds that Govender never interviewed the hijacking victims, the unsighted witnesses to the murder, from whom more might have been learned.

Indeed, despite Govender allegedly agreeing in 2017 that the hijacking and murder dockets be combined, it appears this was never done, or never done properly. The information note even argues that combining the dockets was impossible, despite this being an established practice in serial crimes.

The author purporting to be Govender says, “It is clear that both ex Generals of the private investigations have misled their client into believing that the two criminal dockets can be joined as one docket to please the client. The Port Edward hijacking scene of the vehicle and the Mzamba murder scene are two different places. The time of the crime occurred differently in different Provinces and Magisterial Jurisdictions and thus both crimes cannot be consolidated as one docket. Brigadier Govender indicated to them that the docket will run concurrent for court purposes.”

Forslund responds acidly:  “Today, Brig Govender no longer understands that if two assailants hijack a car 5km from a province border, drive 5km into another province with two hijacking victims captured in the car, murder a person and then flee back again over the border, using the car as the flight vehicle and keeping the hijacking victims in the car until fleeing by foot, they are committing a series of crimes in a row that must be investigated together. The perpetrators of the crimes are the same, the witnesses of the crimes are the same, the motive for the whole incident is one, the cell phone traffic and cell phone locations might be possible to follow tower by tower on both sides of the border, et cetera. To hide the obvious, Brig Govender provides no detail on the sequence of the events in this report to his superior Gen Ngwenya.”

If this is indeed what Govender wrote, then, Forslund argues, this somersault starkly demonstrates Govender’s male fides.

Whether IPID judges that all this amounts to defeating the ends of justice, time will tell. What is clear, however, is that it demands answers: a proper investigation and accounting.

INVESTIGATOR:

Buyeleni Sibanyoni and Sam Sole

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