Hawks commander Anwa Dramat fears assassination if he goes back to work and has come under immense pressure to resign to defuse a constitutional showdown, amaBhungane has been told. Meanwhile, Police Minister Nathi Nhleko has moved to regularise his apparently illegal suspension of Dramat by calling on the ANC-dominated parliamentary portfolio committee on policing to initiate proceedings for Dramat’s removal.
Dramat has refused to speak to the media, but a well-placed source said he had told associates that, if he returned to office to resume the “sensitive investigations” involving “very influential persons” he blames for his removal, he would be placing himself and his family at serious risk.
The source asked not to be named but is familiar with Dramat’s state of mind.
It is understood that Dramat has raised his security concerns with his lawyers.
It is also understood that his loyalty to the ANC is weighing strongly on him. He has allegedly come under pressure from party heavyweights to step down – and was said to have eventually agreed to a meeting with senior party members scheduled for 3pm on Thursday this week.
It is not known whether the meeting took place or what the outcome was.
If Dramat goes, it would take the steam out of a looming confrontation with the Constitutional Court over the Hawks commander’s suspension, which the Pretoria high court has already ruled was unconstitutional and null and void.
Nhleko initially purported to suspend Dramat in terms of a section of the South African Police Service Act that had been deleted by a Constitutional Court judgment weeks before.
Nhleko later justified the suspension based on ordinary public service provisions.
Pretoria Judge Bill Prinsloo overturned the suspension last Friday, noting that the head of the Hawks was specifically protected from arbitrary removal in order to bolster the independence of the unit. The minister immediately noted his intention to appeal.
The Helen Suzman Foundation – which challenged the legality of the suspension – has applied for urgent direct access to the Constitutional Court to make a final ruling on the matter. And the country’s highest court appears to be taking the matter very seriously.
The foundation lodged its Constitutional Court application on Monday and by Tuesday Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng had issued a directive giving the minister two days to file opposing affidavits, coincidentally also with a deadline of 3pm on Thursday.
This level of urgency from the court is almost unprecedented.
The foundation has also launched an application in the Pretoria high court for the order – declaring the suspension invalid – to come into force immediately, notwithstanding the minister’s appeal.
Normally when an appeal is lodged it suspends the court order, but in exceptional circumstances the court can order the interim ruling to come into force while an appeal is decided.
Prinsloo will hear the case on Friday.
Nhleko appears to be betting he can push Dramat out one way or another before either the Constitutional Court or Prinsloo rule on the issue. At the insistence of the Democratic Alliance, the minister was summoned to brief the parliamentary police committee on the Dramat drama on Thursday morning, but the minister turned the tables by asking the committee to begin the process for Dramat’s removal.
In terms of Prinsloo’s ruling, the only legal way for Nhleko to suspend Dramat is once a parliamentary committee has initiated proceedings calling for him to be removed.
If Prinsloo is correct, it means that the head of the Hawks can only be removed following a supporting vote of at least two-thirds of the members of the National Assembly – but he can be suspended at any time following the start of such proceedings.
In a letter to Francois Beukman, who chairs the parliamentary police committee, Nhleko called on the committee to initiate proceedings for Dramat’s removal.
Although the two-thirds majority required for his final ousting is outside the reach of the ANC alone, Nhleko only requires a simple majority decision from the committee to enable him to resuspend Dramat immediately– this time lawfully.
Not fit to lead claims
In his letter, Nhleko based his request on claims that Dramat was not fit to lead the Hawks because of his alleged involvement in the illegal deportation of Zimbabwean criminal suspects.
He noted: “The allegations that have been made against Dramat relate to the illegal rendition of Zimbabwean nationals who were unlawfully arrested by the members of the [Hawks] in Diepsloot, Johannesburg, and under falsified home affairs deportation documents, they were extradited to Zimbabwe though Beit Bridge border gate and handed over to the Zimbabwean police who tortured them.
“Two of these Zimbabwean nationals were ultimately killed by the Zimbabwean police. Witness statements and other potential witnesses place Dramat … at the centre of these unlawful renditions, and that they occurred with Dramat’s knowledge and approval.”
In his presentation to the portfolio committee Nhleko maintained that his original suspension of Dramat was valid, despite the high court’s finding to the contrary.
He attempted to redefine the debate around the suspension as one of human rights. He argued that, had the victims of the renditions to Zimbabwe been white, there would have been a clamour for him to act.
Allegations of misconduct
Nhleko said when he came into office earlier this year, he was “inundated” by allegations of police misconduct. As a result he appointed a reference group in October.
He said it filed a first draft report in December. Among the matters addressed in the report, he said, were the renditions for which the Hawks has been accused.
This moved him to suspend Dramat.
Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko initially suspended Anwa Dramat after he was allegedly involved in illegal deportations. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)
Nhleko argued that reports that the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) had cleared Dramat were of no consequence, as that body could only recommend and not make a finding.
He wrote: “Reading the witness statements; other records, and including the Ipid report itself, you will without doubt realise that the conclusion of the Ipid report is not supported by the very analysis of the evidence in the report and the statements themselves.
“It may even give one the impression that the conclusion was altered without the body of the report being altered to justify the conclusion.”
The Mail & Guardian has previously reported that Ipid director Robert McBride met Dramat after his suspension to confirm that his report had cleared the Hawks boss.
Dramat, in a December 24 letter to the minister following his suspension, alleged the rendition allegations were a “smokescreen” and that “there are no facts whatsoever that indicate at any given time I have acted illegally or unlawfully …”
Dramat claimed: “I am also aware that in the next two months there will be a drive to remove certain investigations that fell under my ‘watch’, reallocate certain cases and that certain sensitive investigations may even be closed down.”
Speaking to the committee Nhleko dismissed as “absurd” the allegation that “political partisanships” had played a role in his targeting of Dramat.
But he ignored questions from DA police spokesperson Dianne Kohler Barnard about whether President Jacob Zuma had played a role and whether he had interacted with the president or any presidential legal staff regarding Dramat’s suspension.
Dramat’s tipping points – Nkandla and Mdluli?
The desperate legal and parliamentary efforts to shore up the suspension of Hawks boss Anwa Dramat have provided circumstantial support for Dramat’s own claims that the move against him was based on ulterior motives.
In his December 24 letter to Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko following his purported suspension, Dramat wrote: “No doubt you are aware that I have recently called for certain case dockets involving very influential persons to be brought or alternatively centralised under one investigating arm and this has clearly caused massive resentment towards me.”
New claims have emerged suggesting the controversial security upgrade at President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla homestead was at the apex of investigations Dramat perceived as highly sensitive.
AmaBhungane has been told by a source familiar with the matter that in December 2014 Dramat called for the Nkandla dockets – currently under the control of the divisional commissioner for detective services Vinesh Moonoo – to be transferred to the Hawks.
The South African Police Service has never denied this allegation, merely stating that national commissioner Riah Phiyega and Dramat never discussed the Nkandla investigation.
A Constitutional Court ruling two weeks earlier made it clear that Dramat alone has the authority to decide which cases the Hawks should take on.
The source said that following his suspension Dramat told colleagues that his first notice of the intention to suspend him arrived barely two days after he asked for the transfer of the Nkandla dockets.
The dockets – initially based on the work of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), which probed the upgrade – were apparently never handed over.
The head of the SIU, Vas Soni, resigned this week, citing concerns over his wife’s health.
In his affidavit in response to the Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF) high court application, Nhleko disclosed that, following Judge Bill Prinsloo’s judgment last Friday, Dramat announced his intention to resume his duties the following Monday.
His lawyers wrote to the minister stating: “Lieutenant General Dramat will resume his duties on Monday, January?26 2015.
“We assume in the circumstances that Lieutenant General Dramat will be allowed to exercise his duties, functions and responsibilities unhindered and without any interference. Lieutenant General Dramat will inevitably be entitled to restore structures, procedures and investigations retrospectively from the date of his purported suspension.”
It is understood that Dramat attempted to return to his office that Sunday, but found that the locks had been changed and his way was barred.
Hawks spokesperson Hangwani Mulaudzi reportedly denied that Dramat was targeted, but confirmed to Business Day that “changes in the keys and locks did happen as anyone moving into a new house would do”.
In his affidavit, Nhleko also scoffed at claims that his appointee as acting Hawks head, Brigadier Berning Ntlemeza, was interfering in investigations and making far-reaching decisions.
“Allegations that [Ntlemeza] has begun making decisions is baffling because my understanding is that when one is appointed to act as the national head of [the Hawks], he/she is required to take decisions on a daily basis.”
The HSF accused Ntlemeza of being “anything but placid” in his new position.
The body cited Ntlemeza’s suspension of Gauteng Hawks boss Shadrack Sibiya – also implicated in the rendition allegations – as well as news reports that he had “transferred” Colonel Zama Basi, Hawks head of integrity, and Colonel Mike Reddy, head of finances, and replaced former spokesperson Captain Paul Ramaloko with his own spokesperson, Mulaudzi.
Ntlemeza denied taking major decisions, noting in his own affidavit in support of the minister: “All the cases that are currently being investigated by those who are investigating them will continue to be investigated as such by those persons. No changes whatsoever will be made.”
However, on Thursday Beeld newspaper reported that Ntlemeza had instructed the Hawks officer investigating perjury charges against three senior members of the National Prosecuting Authority to retrieve the dockets from the NPA.
The paper said this order was given hours after investigating officer Theunis de Klerk on Tuesday took warning statements in the cases involving advocates Nomgcobo Jiba, Lawrence Mrwebi and Sibongile Mzinyathi.
Jiba, Mrwebi and Mzinyathi are intimately bound up in the legal battles over the withdrawal of criminal charges against former head of crime intelligence Richard Mdluli.
Jiba is a deputy director of national prosecutions and the former acting head of the NPA; Mrwebi is the head of the specialised commercial crimes unit; and Mzinyathi is the North Gauteng prosecutions boss.
The charges relate to their statements and conduct in a number of cases criticised in court judgments, including their role in the decision to drop corruption charges against Mdluli, who is entering his third year of suspension on full pay.
The NPA confirmed yesterday that it did receive a request “to hand the [perjury] docket to the investigating officer”.
“That was done at the request of General Ntlemeza,” NPA spokesman Velekhaya Mgobhozi said.
“The request came through on Tuesday and we gave them the docket on Wednesday.”
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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.