24 April 2024 | 08:31 PM

Zuma bodyguard put in charge of police spy unit

Key Takeaways

One of Jacob Zuma’s most trusted bodyguards has been placed in charge of the operational spying structures of the South African Police Service, the Mail & Guardian can reveal.

Brigadier KB “Bhoyi” Ngcobo, a senior member of the presidential protection unit, was appointed acting head of crime intelligence collection by acting national commissioner Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi shortly after the latter was parachuted in by Zuma to replace Bheki Cele.

Cele was suspended in October last year pending the outcome of an inquiry into his fitness for office.

Crime intelligence sources told the M&G that they expected Ngcobo would soon be promoted to major general and confirmed in his position.

They predicted this would form part of the restructuring announced by the divisional commissioner for crime intelligence, Richard Mdluli, since his controversial reinstatement at the end of March.

Ngcobo’s selection appears to consolidate the stranglehold over police intelligence structures of individuals perceived to have powerful personal loyalties to Zuma — key among them the members of Zuma’s personal guard.

He was among those Zuma praised in a speech last October at the funeral of one of his other bodyguards, known as Mashimane.

Zuma named Ngcobo as one of the “echo group” of his protectors, who had resisted pressure from “plotters” to inform on him during his time in the political wilderness.

Zuma reportedly said his bodyguards showed “deep knowledge of politics”, refusing “to give information about my movements when their superiors wanted it”.

When Zuma became president in 2009, he reportedly insisted that this trusted group remained with him.

Now key members have been taken into crime intelligence following moves by Mdluli to incorporate the protection and security services into crime intelligence under his command.

Protection services guard all state VIPs and encompass the presidential protection unit.

Shortly after returning to active duty, Mdluli announced that crime intelligence would be restructured following the incorporation of ­protection services.

Crime intelligence members expressed fears that this would be used to purge those not aligned to Mdluli, although the intelligence boss had assured them he was not out to get those who had investigated him.

It is understood the new division will be named Crime and Security Protection Intelligence Services.

“This is huge,” said a senior policeman, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“The presidential protection services is everywhere. They guard ministers, deputy ministers, premiers, MECs, even judges. Now Mdluli will have everybody’s ­itinerary on his desk daily. He will know if they deviate from it, who they meet — everything!”

Said another source with knowledge of Mdluli’s relationship with Zuma: “Mdluli can see what every minister is doing 24 hours a day and that’s exactly what Zuma wants.”

A crime intelligence officer said: “This will influence crime intelligence to focus on political intelligence instead of intelligence that will allow the fight against crime.”

The officer added: “The government is allowing the building of tribal police service.”

The M&G has also confirmed that in late 2011 the police also began transferring crime intelligence officers, including some with specialised electronic skills, into the protection unit.

Members of protection services who have demonstrated personal loyalty to Zuma have also been pushed up the ranks.

City Press reported last month that six of Zuma’s VIP bodyguards had been “irregularly” promoted to the ranks of full colonel, two of whom jumped six ranks.

All the guards were said to have been part of the group that had been assigned to protect Zuma since 2005 when he was fired as deputy president.

One senior officer said: “With the return of Lieutenant General Mdluli, the crime intelligence division has been detached from the deputy national commissioner [of] crime detection, which falls under Lieutenant General Godfrey Lebeya. Mdluli reports directly to Mkhwanazi and no longer to Lebeya.”

Another senior officer with knowledge of the relationship said Mdluli often reported directly to Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, who lobbied for his appointment in 2009 over the objections of then-acting commissioner Tim Williams.

Mthethwa has denied interfering in the management of the police, but the senior officer alleged that Mkhwanazi took no major decisions without the minister’s say-so.

Among the decisions highlighted by the senior officer was the appointment of a BS Ngubane, who was a temporary employee at Technology Management Services.

The officer said Ngubane had originally been a consultant, but had been elevated to the level of divisional commissioner, with the rank of lieutenant general, after the same March 27 meeting between Mthethwa and Mkhwanazi that led to Mdluli’s reinstatement.

The technology management division handles a big slice of the police’s procurement budget.

A police spokesperson told the M&G the appointment “was dealt with in terms of prescriptions of the SAPS”.

The M&G has also learned that Major General Solly Lazarus, who, like Mdluli, was accused of abusing the secret services account for personal gain, has been reinstated as overall head of crime intelligence support functions, although Mkhwanazi has brought in the unknown Brigadier MO Nemutanzhela as acting head of covert support.

Said a retired crime intelligence member: “The comments [Zuma made] at the funeral [were] very indicative of the game plan. The covert account is powerful and those who control it are better placed to ‘protect’ national security.

“I am certain big people are desperate to control it and will use every opportunity to shrug off those perceived to be unconverted.”

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit initiative to develop investigative journalism in the public interest, produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for all our stories, activities and sources of funding.

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Buyeleni Sibanyoni and Sam Sole

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