One of the most powerful policemen in the country was appointed despite apparently unresolved criminal allegations made against him – and now his colleagues are allegedly waging a vendetta against the young officer who blew the whistle on him.
Lieutenant General Mthandazo Ntlemeza was appointed as the permanent head of the Hawks, South Africa’s priority crime-combating unit, in mid-September, despite a seemingly unresolved case opened against him by one of his former junior officers, Lieutenant Boitumelo Ramahlaha.
Ntlemeza was selected by a panel chaired by Police Minister Nathi Nhleko, despite a finding by Pretoria high court Judge Elias Matojane in an unrelated case that Ntlemeza was “biased and dishonest … lacks integrity and honour, and made false statements under oath”.
Nhleko has refused to release the CVs of the competing candidates. A senior police source told amaBhungane there were other applicants who were better qualified.
The Ramahlaha case, which dates back to the time when Ntlemeza was deputy provincial commissioner for Limpopo, was being investigated by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid).
Ramahlaha claimed Ntlemeza had failed to act on a report sent to him by Ramahlaha that one of his other officers was defrauding the police by making false travel claims. Ramahlaha alleged Ntlemeza protected the officer because the man was dating Ntlemeza’s daughter.
“Contentless … cheap propaganda, blackmail”
The Ramahlaha case appears to have fed directly into the battle for control of Ipid and of the Hawks, which saw the suspension of Ntelemeza’s predecessor, Anwa Dramat, in December last year, and that of Ipid director Robert McBride, who was suspended in March.
In January, amaBhungane reported that Ramahlaha had delivered a letter setting out his allegations against Ntlemeza to Nhleko’s chief of staff on December 13 last year, about 10 days before Ntlemeza was appointed to act in Dramat’s place. Ramahlaha called on Nhleko to investigate the allegations.
The young policeman followed this up by contacting the private investigator, Paul O’Sullivan, and delivering an affidavit setting out his claims in more detail.
AmaBhungane understands the affidavit was brought to the personal attention of McBride and an Ipid case was opened in early 2015, which potentially implicated Ntlemeza in defeating the ends of justice.
In the affidavit, Ramahlaha also drew attention to an apparently unresolved case involving Ntlemeza’s colleague, Brigadier HC Morakaladi.
A charge was laid against Morakaladi, the South African Police Service provincial head of personnel management, in 2004 by another senior officer, Brigadier Phillip Morkel, who has since retired.
The case had to do with allegations that Morakaladi had abused her position over recruitment in the South African Police Service (SAPS).
Ramahlaha alleged, without providing any evidence, that Morakaladi had been protected by Ntlemeza. He also noted that the investigation docket had mysteriously gone missing after Ipid’s predecessor, the Independent Complaints Directorate, took on the case.
In January, when amaBhungane approached Nhleko’s spokesperson for comment, he did not respond.
At the time Ntlemeza’s spokesperson, Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi, dismissed Ramahlaha’s affidavit as “contentless … cheap propaganda, blackmail”, and alleged that Ramahlaha was motivated by “revenge for unknown reasons”.
“Ntlemeza has got no pending case against him”
This week, when amaBhungane asked whether the interview panel that selected Ntlemeza had been made aware of the allegations, again no response was received from the minister’s office.
Mulaudzi confirmed the earlier responses to the allegations as “untruths” intended to distract Ntlemeza. “Lieutenant General Ntlemeza has got no pending case against him,” he said.
It is understood that, before McBride’s suspension, Ipid was vigorously pursuing Ramahlaha’s allegations.
But, in June, following McBride’s suspension, Ramahlaha discovered in a newspaper report that he was the subject of a criminal investigation by the Hawks in a bizarre case of a Limpopo “bogus cop”.
Alex Maake, reportedly convicted for rape in 2010, is said to have escaped from the Pretoria Central police station cells and turned up at the Polokwane police station in 2012, where he introduced himself as Captain Alex Mailula.
He said he had been seconded from the police national headquarters in Pretoria to assist in Limpopo and it appears that no one checked his credentials and he was even lauded for his exceptional detective work.
Maake was finally traced and arrested in February but again managed to escape from police custody, this time from the Polokwane cells.
He was rearrested by the Hawks in June – at the same time that Ramahlaha became aware he was being blamed for introducing Maake to the Limpopo police.
“[Ntlemeza] should also explain why Hawks members have visited me in prison”
On July 12, City Press reported, embarrassingly, that Maake had conducted a phone interview from prison and alleged that Ntlemeza himself had interacted with him when Ntlemeza was deputy police commissioner in Limpopo.
“He used to call me directly to discuss some cases and even asked for some serious cases to be handled by no one else but me,” Maake was quoted as saying, adding: “[Ntlemeza] should also explain why Hawks members have visited me in prison and tried to convince me to implicate some senior officers and say they breached security when they allowed me into the police.”
In response, Ntlemeza’s spokesperson told City Press: “People like Mailula and his cohorts are just trying their luck … And to those who assisted him, they must be very afraid as their days are numbered.”
AmaBhungane has seen documentation that shows that Ramahlaha received notice of his suspension on July 17 and reveals that criminal charges of fraud and defeating the ends of justice were opened against him in May 2015 based on the allegation that he “introduced bogus cop Captain Mailula to SAPS members in the Limpopo province”.
The suspension letter was signed by Morakaladi, against whom Ramahlaha had previously made serious allegations.
Mulaudzi denied that either Morakaladi or Ntlemeza were personally involved in the investigation of Ramahlaha, or that they were conflicted as a result of it.
In his written representations, which amaBhungane has seen, Ramahlaha maintained he had only been introduced to “Captain Mailula” in April 2013 by police colleagues and he had no reason to doubt the man was a senior police officer.
He denied introducing Maake and maintained the case against him was a “malicious witch-hunt”. Nevertheless, he was suspended without pay.
Ramahlaha told amaBhungane he was not allowed to speak to the media, but, through his attorney he revealed that, in July, his office and home had been searched by the Hawks and his phones and computer had been seized.
Then on September 21, the Hawks officer in charge of his case had allegedly summoned him and told him he “was not going to win against the general”, that “the general” had given them a number of other cases to investigate against him, and that the next time he would be arrested “Hollywood-style”.
On October 9, Ramahlaha, Maake’s wife and a provincial education department official appeared in court after being arrested and charged for being in illegal communication with Maake.
A subsequent Hawks statement quoted Ntlemeza as saying South Africa could not have police officers helping suspects “run riot in our communities” by having access to cellphones in prison.
Efforts by amaBhungane to establish what had happened to the 2004 and 2015 Ipid investigations were hampered by confusion over case numbers.
Ipid’s acting director, Israel Kgamayane, told amaBhungane the 2004 case had long since been dealt with and the National Prosecuting Authority had declined to prosecute.
He failed to respond to a follow-up query about when and by whom this decision had been taken.
Ipid said the docket went missing at the Polokwane police station, and not at Ipid offices.
Mulaudzi, on the other hand, told amaBhungane the 2004 case and the docket was still with Ipid.
There are indications that the 2015 case may also have been withdrawn by a prosecutor, though this could not be confirmed.
Ramahlaha’s story of a witch-hunt may sound convenient, but it is echoed by the claims of an Ipid investigator, Innocent Khuba.
Khuba, like Ramahlaha, has been caught up in the fight over control of the Hawks and Ipid.
Khuba was the investigator brought in to probe the Zimbabwe rendition allegations against Dramat and others, and was suspended with McBride and the Ipid head of investigations, Matthews Sesoko, for allegedly editing a draft investigation report in order to exonerate Dramat.
The case against Khuba was settled on September 23 and he was given a final written warning.
Two days later, he provided Sesoko with an affidavit in which he emphasised that his guilty plea did not incriminate Sesoko or McBride, and that he had been given no instructions to exonerate Dramat.
When the existence of the affidavit became known to Ipid, Khuba was summarily fired by Kgamanyane.
“Look after you”
In papers before the Labour Court, Khuba alleged that senior Hawks officers had then approached him in a bid to get him to implicate McBride.
His papers included the transcript of a call from one of them, Colonel William Mahlangu, who appeared to promise Khuba “the general” would “look after you” if Khuba co-operated.
In a statement, the Hawks said Mahlangu was entitled to call Khuba as he was the investigating officer in a perjury case against Khuba and the conversation was innocent.
“Mentioning General Ntlemeza’s name… does not mean Lieutenant General Ntlemeza is involved in any way.”
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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.