News analysis: Battle for Cape’s police chief post intensifies in midst of turmoil

Major General Andre Lincoln is a contender to take over as Western Cape police chief. He currently leads the unit tackling gangsterism, the province’s most crippling problem, but Lincoln’s complicated history could see him ruled out for the top job.

A policeman in the running to become the Western Cape’s next police chief is embroiled in a two-decade legal battle which has left him squaring off against the police ministry and is adding to layers of police friction and infighting in the province.

Major General Andre Lincoln has a remarkable history in the police which includes having been forced out the service and fighting his way back in.

He now heads up the Western Cape’s Anti-Gang Unit (AGU) – a critical task team because the province is the most gang-ravaged in the country.

Lincoln’s experience as a gang-buster has, according to sources, put him in the running to become the province’s next police chief.

However, past and more current happenings may count against him.

Highlighting tensions within the province’s already fraught police service, Lincoln recently revealed that he distrusted three members of his own unit who had been placed in the AGU by Western Cape police commissioner Khombinkosi Jula.

Jula has allegedly been central to some of the conflict between police factions.

In June Lincoln wrote to Jula’s office saying that the three members had gone behind his back to plot an operation which then backfired, with officers being ambushed and wounded.

Lincoln’s words came as gang shootings surged and allegations surfaced that the AGU was being deliberately starved of resources and that another policing unit in the province was actively working against it.

This prompted police minister Bheki Cele to start probing allegations of instability in the Western Cape’s police leadership.

At roughly the same time it emerged that after more than three years Jula was possibly on his way out of the Western Cape and was potentially KwaZulu-Natal’s next police boss.

READ: SAPS wars update: KZN top cop post suddenly ‘vacant’, Cape general ‘earmarked’ for it

If Jula accepts the transfer, the Western Cape police chief position will be vacant.

Sources said there was intense manoeuvring among senior officers and politicians in the province to either try and land the Western Cape post, or to see that someone they favour does.

Over the years several sources have voiced suspicions that allegations were planted and actions taken against certain Western Cape police officers in order to try and block their promotions or thwart investigations they were busy with.

It’s no secret the province’s policing arena has for years been deeply fractured.

Divisions

In 2016 the tensions involved current national crime intelligence head Lieutenant General Peter Jacobs (who at the time filled the provincial intelligence position) and Western Cape detective boss Major General Jeremy Vearey.

They were suddenly transferred out of those positions to ‘desk’ jobs.

This move appeared to be linked to their investigation of a massive national firearm smuggling case which revealed that guns in police custody were ending up with gangsters.

Western Cape detective boss Major General Jeremy Vearey (Photo: Caryn Dolley).

The duo successfully fought their transfers in the Cape Town Labour Court in a case that exposed the fragmentation among officers provincially and nationally.

Then in December 2018 a fresh batch of claims were levelled against Western Cape police officers.

READ: SAPS Wars Part 1: The blurry blue line between the cops and the Cape underworld

This time AGU member Lieutenant Colonel Charl Kinnear alleged that a group of officers, some with links to the province’s current crime intelligence head, Mzwandile Tiyo, were plotting against him and his colleagues, including Vearey and Jacobs.

These allegations, as well as counter-allegations, became the focus of investigations by  police head office and the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID).

Members of the Western Cape’s National Prosecuting Authority are now studying the dockets in this matter and will decide whether any officers will face prosecution.

Jacobs and Vearey are both former uMkhonto weSizwe operatives.

So is Lincoln.

The three are seen to be in aligned to each other and each one has been promoted under President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration.

  • Watch: President Cyril Ramaphosa hands over keys of the SAPS response vehicles of the Anti-Gang Unit to Maj. Gen. Lincoln, Commander of the Anti-Gang Unit (@PresidencyZA: Twitter).

Included in the (real or perceived) police grouping opposing them are Jula and Tiyo, both appointed in the Western Cape during the Jacob Zuma administration.

It was under this administration that Jacobs and Vearey were controversially transferred in that contested 2016 reshuffle, which also saw Lincoln being moved sideways.

Jacobs has the credentials to become Western Cape police commissioner but it is understood he is likely to stay at national crime intelligence in order to clean up its dubious Zuma era legacy.

But Lincoln, while viewed as a contender for the top Cape position, comes with baggage.

His critics view him as a policeman who has consistently deviated from the chain of command and accused other officers of wrongdoing to try and deflect accusations of incompetence on his part.

Others view him as a victim of his past, having been unfairly targeted by colleagues.

One consequence is that, despite heading the AGU, he is in a legal deadlock with the police ministry over decades-old happenings.

Presidential appointment

The whole Lincoln legal saga dates back to June 1996 when then-President Nelson Mandela appointed him to head an elite unit to investigate allegations that high-ranking police officers and politicians were on suspected mafioso Vito Palazzolo’s payroll.

In the ’90s Palazzolo was suspected of being one of the most powerful members of the Italian mafia, Cosa Nostra, and was based in the Western Cape.

Wanted by Italian authorities, he managed to avoid extradition while in South Africa.

READ: Palazzolo: Italian authorities target ‘mafia banker’s’ SA wealth

Lincoln’s team, the Presidential Investigative Task Unit (Pitu), also investigated figures linked to nightclub security.

This included rumoured military intelligence operative Cyril Beeka, who had suspected ties to ANC heavyweights, and his alleged links to police officers and to Cosa Nostra.

Lincoln therefore investigated (and later made claims against) powerful members of the previous and the current government, as well as police officers.

Palazzolo, who absconded from a Swiss jail and fled to South Africa in 1986, had reputedly helped the Apartheid regime bypass international sanctions and built up a network of influence, first in the Ciskei and then in the Western Cape.

One of Pitu’s directives was: “The unit operates with the approval of the President and all efforts must thus be made not to create any form of embarrassment for the President, his office or the South African Police Service in general – this must be the motto of the unit.”

But it became the source of extreme embarrassment for the ANC because it imploded and became the core of one of the country’s messiest and longest running legal sagas, with high-level political offshoots.

The year after Pitu’s creation, police officers were instead investigating Lincoln.

This related to suspicions that he was actually in cahoots with Palazzolo.

Lincoln argued it may have seemed so because to infiltrate Palazzolo’s operations he had needed to get close to the kingpin and did so under the guise of being his ally.

He claimed the investigation into him was driven by “old order” cops wanting to protect their own networks and colleagues. In 1998 Lincoln was arrested and slapped with 47 criminal charges.

These included for drunk driving and fraud relating to money linked to the investigative unit, as well as a trip that Lincoln and Palazzolo had taken to Angola.

Kicked out

In November 2002 Lincoln was convicted on 17 of the 47 charges and the following year he was sentenced to nine years in jail without the option of a fine.

Lincoln was also discharged from the police.

He appealed both the conviction and the sentence, arguing that “old guard” police officers from the apartheid-era had set him up to kill Pitu’s investigations.

In 2009 Lincoln was acquitted of all the charges and his sentence was set aside.

“I am satisfied the magistrate misdirected himself in convicting the appellant… All the facts just scream out that there was no fraud in this case and once again, the magistrate was wrong,” the judgment in this appeal said.

“The entire trial consisted of intrigue, name dropping and very little else.”

But Lincoln’s woes were far from over.

His advocate Johann Nortje was unsure if Pitu investigations had anything to do with subsequent pushback against Lincoln.

He said when Lincoln was acquitted in 2009 he should have been reinstated in terms of a section of the SAPS Act.

Cele was national police commissioner at the time and, according to Nortje, did not comply with this section — it effectively says if a police officer is convicted and sentenced, but successfully appeals and these are set aside, the officer may be reinstated from the date of discharge.

Lincoln was reinstated into the police in June 2010, but not with all the losses he had incurred during his seven year exile.

“We therefore issued summons,” Nortje said.

Legal ping-pong and deadlock

This led to a civil case in the Western Cape High Court in 2017 in which Lincoln pushed to prove he had been maliciously prosecuted (which resulted in the 2002 convictions) and also tried to claim R15-million in damages from the police minister.

The money related to the loss of income while he was out of the police service following his discharge.

In September 2017 the court ruled that Lincoln failed to prove that he was maliciously prosecuted.

He appealed and in October 2018 was successful – two judges ruled that Lincoln’s appeal should be upheld, while one disagreed.

But police then approached the Supreme Court of Appeal with the ministry of safety and security (now the police ministry) as the applicant and petitioned for leave to appeal Lincoln’s victory.

Members from the Western Cape’s Anti-Gang Unit (SAPS Facebook).

This was recently granted and the appeal will likely only be heard next year, dragging the overall matter into its 24th year.

The state attorney’s notice to appeal, dated mid-June, said the majority of the Western Cape High Court misdirected itself in finding that the alleged bias of investigators was “sufficient to establish the delict of malicious prosecution.”

The push for the appeal has raised several questions in policing circles because the police ministry approached the supreme court in late 2018, roughly the same time Lincoln was announced as the head of the newly-created Anti-Gang Unit.

This means that Lincoln, despite getting the president’s nod to lead the fight against gangsterism, is again apparently being second-guessed by some colleagues.

Nortje said when Cele was initially addressed about the petition to appeal Lincoln’s victory, “the Minister said that he wasn’t aware of (it).”

But Cele’s stance since then puzzled Nortje.

“I don’t understand why the Minister is pushing ahead with this further special appeal specifically in the light of Lincoln’s promotion to head the Anti-Gang Unit,” he said.

A well-placed source told amaBhungane that Cele was likely proceeding with the appeal because if he backtracked now, it could set an unwanted precedent.

If this source is correct, Cele is in a catch-22 – if he drops the appeal he could set a precedent and if does not, he is seen to be among those pushing against Lincoln even if this is not the case.

Cele, via his spokesperson, declined to comment because the matter is before a court.

Intensifying internal cop friction

At the end of June this year Nortje was quoted in the Sunday Times as saying the AGU was created before the 2019 election as an ANC attempt to try and gain votes on the Cape Flats, but that it was launched without proper procedures being followed.

Another source previously expressed a similar view of the unit.

Whatever its intention, the Anti-Gang Unit has exposed more problems within the Western Cape’s police.

On June 12 this year a team from the unit was carrying out an operation in Samora Machel in Nyanga, dubbed the “murder capital” of South Africa because of the high numbers of killings reported there, when they were ambushed.

Shots were fired at the group and five police officers were wounded.

The next day Lincoln wrote to Jula’s office requesting that three members “placed at the (Anti-Gang Unit) by the Provincial Commissioner” be removed due to a breakdown in trust between him and the trio.

Lincoln alleged the operation was not discussed with him.

He said there was no approved operational plan and no specialised forces, for example the tactical response team, present as backup.

The dockets on which the operation was based, Lincoln said, were not gang-related and therefore did not fall under the AGU’s mandate.

Lincoln appointed a colonel to conduct a disciplinary investigation into the three officers.

Provincial police said the acting Western Cape police commissioner Major General Mpumelelo Manci had also appointed a major general to investigate the Samora Machel incident.

“It is requested that the investigation be allowed space to reach finality,” the provincial police told amaBhungane.

Opposing units?

In February this year Daily Maverick reported that questions had arose in Parliament about another Western Cape policing unit, the Major Offences Reaction Team (Mort), and whether it was opposing the Anti-Gang Unit.

It reported that Jula announced the establishment of the reaction team in September 2017 and it started operating around the start of this year.

This coincided with the early phases of the AGU.

According to the Daily Maverick the Mort team is headed by Manci’s wife, Brigadier Zingisa Manci, and she reports to him.

In late June this year civil activist Colin Arendse, a former police reservist from Cape Town, wrote to national police commissioner Khehla Sitole saying he had been told the AGU had been operating without a budget since its inception.

Arendse claimed this was because Sitole had not allocated a personnel and salary sub system number to the unit.

“Interestingly, for the past four months, Mort has conveniently been operating with a budget of R1,1 million rand PER MONTH despite no Organisational Design and Work Study being signed off by you,” Arendse wrote.

“I also note, with extreme prejudice; General, that Mort was able to source this budget from you AFTER the launch of the Anti-Gang Unit by the President.”

Western Cape police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Andrè Traut dealt with questions directed to national police about budgets relating to both units.

“Both the (Anti-Gang Unit) and (Mort) have been established as operational measures to address crime in the Western Cape, however the operational functioning of these units is regarded an internal matter which is not discussed with the media,” he said.

Cele’s spokesperson Reneilwe Serero said he had requested a report into matters relating to the shooting of the Anti-Gang Unit members and to Mort.

“Minister Cele is looking into the alleged instability in the provincial management,” she said.

This week, Lincoln appeared to step aside, telling amaBhungane: “On the prospect of becoming Provincial Commissioner I support Major General Vearey for the job. I have no ambitions in that regard.”

He said he understood and felt the pain of the people of the Cape Flats and wanted to contribute “in alleviating that pain”, by focusing on building the AGU.

Vearey is widely viewed as a master gang tackler, though his enemies have tried to paint him as too close to some gang bosses.

Gang violence and factions

But Vearey also faces an uphill battle, given that he has been viewed with open suspicion by the Democratic Alliance administration.

The new Western Cape community safety MEC Albert Fritz has openly referred to divisions within the province’s police and warned: “It is imperative that the new Provincial Commissioner be a person of highest integrity who is not involved in any of the factions that are currently destroying SAPS in the Western Cape.”

He pointed out that a section of the Constitution said the national police commissioner must appoint a provincial commissioner “with the concurrence of the provincial executive.”

Fritz’s words do not bode well for any police officer in the province seen to be aligned to a faction, which given the situation is many officers including Vearey and Lincoln.

Last month Fritz called a press conference along with police and said that in seven months, between November last year and May this year, 2 302 murders were recorded in the Western Cape and the majority of these were gang-related.

The statistics he referred to covered the period starting from the launch of the Lincoln-led Anti-Gang Unit.

Whoever becomes the Western Cape’s next police chief has a tough task ahead – not just in fighting crime, but trying to smooth out deep fractures and divides.

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