Sunday, August 8, 2010

Senior Policeman's startling admission: Arrest was political

Senior Policeman's startling admission: Arrest was political

There is mounting evidence that political pressure lay behind the arrest this week of Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi wa Africa, despite furious denials from police top brass.
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A senior police official close to the case admitted yesterday that police were feeling the heat from ANC politicians to crack down on wa Afrika, because of his reporting.
"Ja - it's political pressure," he told the Sunday Times.
Yesterday, Mabutho Sithole, a spokesman for Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza, confirmed the premier had laid the initial complaint, at the Kabokweni police station in Nelspruit, which culminated in wa Afrika's arrest.
Mabuza, a controversial figure in Mpumalanga, has been the subject of various articles in the Sunday Times and other publications.
The complaint was sparked by a letter faxed to the Sunday Times, in which Mabuza supposedly states his intention to resign as premier. Mabuza insisted the letter was a forgery and that he had no intention of resigning.
"He (Mabuza) complained to the police here at Kabokweni after we got a copy of the letter and received information that there were people in possession of a letter bearing his name and signature," said Sithole.
Wa Afrika was arrested at 11.15am on Wednesday outside the Sunday Times building in Rosebank, Johannesburg.
Minutes earlier Sunday Times lawyer Renier Spies had been negotiating with Kabokweni station commander Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Mabasa at Rosebank police station not to arrest wa Afrika at his office, but rather to allow the journalist to hand himself over at the station.
"In the meantime (Mabasa) contacted a 'general' whose further particulars are unknown to me, via his cellphone," said Spies. "According to (Mabasa), the general he spoke to was on his way to the station and wanted to join us."
Minutes later, several police vehicles with sirens blaring pulled up alongside wa Afrika outside the Sunday Times building while he was walking to the police station. Police bundled him into an unmarked vehicle and drove off at high speed.
At 7pm on Thursday night, the Sunday Times went to the High Court in Pretoria to bring an urgent application for wa Afrika's release. Just before 10pm, acting Judge Johan Kruger ordered his immediate release following an agreement with the state. Wa Afrika was released at 10:30pm on Thursday night.
He appeared in Nelspruit Regional Court on Friday on charges of fraud, forgery and uttering. He was released on bail of R5000 and is scheduled to appear again on November 8.
Spies said he was convinced there was "political pressure on (Mabasa) to effect an arrest".
This is borne out by the line of questioning police adopted when interrogating wa Afrika and fellow suspect Victor Mlimi, a senior provincial government official, at the Nelspruit office of the police's provincial Organised Crime Unit on Thursday.
"I was asked whether I was directly or indirectly involved in discrediting senior ANC office bearers in Mpumalanga," said wa Afrika. "That made me wonder whether the police were investigating a criminal or a political case.
"They also wanted to know who are the big politicians I'm working with behind the scenes. This made me conclude the police were sent by politicians to harass and intimidate me."
Mlimi's lawyer, Daniel Mabunda, said his client was questioned for two hours about the ANC's provincial leadership succession battles, and which political camp he supported.
"I was present when my client was asked, Are you destroying the image and integrity of the ANC in Mpumalanga? I advised my client not to answer that question. It struck me that this has more to do with politics than a criminal case."
The day before the arrest, police chief General Bheki Cele had referred to wa Afrika as a "shady journalist", in response to an article he co-authored about the police chief's involvement in clinching a R500-million lease agreement, without going to tender, with billionaire businessman Roux Shabangu.
The vigour police used to pursue wa Afrika also raised eyebrows. The case was opened at Kabokweni police station on Monday and wa Afrika was arrested two days later.
Police have yet to arrest anyone connected to the deaths of Mbombela speaker Jimmy Mohlala and provincial arts and culture spokesman Sammy Mpatlanyane - both of whom appeared on an alleged hit list that emerged last year .
Mohlala was gunned down outside his house by three masked men in January 2009 in Kanyamazane township outside Nelspruit. Mpatlanyane was shot in his Nelspruit home in January 2010.
"Those murders are still under investigation," Hawks spokesman Musa Zondi told the Sunday Times yesterday.
The visible lack of progress in these cases contrasts with the swift action taken against wa Afrika, one of the journalists who exposed the alleged hit list.
Cele's spokesman, Nonkululeko Mbatha, told the Sunday Times yesterday "the semblance and impressions you have are not factual". "Police have instituted a probe which is ongoing and appealed to members of the public who might have information ... to come to the fore."
Asked about the negative impression created by the police's heavy-handed action against wa Afrika, she said: "I cannot undo that impression but the fact of the matter is no one is immune from investigation of what is suspicious of criminal nature. Lastly, insinuations about a directive issued by the general (Cele) to apprehend or intimidate the journalist are incorrect and a figment of imagination."
Mabuza's spokesman also denied exerting any political pressure on police, or that the arrest was an attempt to intimidate wa Afrika and derail his investigative reporting on the murders.;
First Letter from the Office of the Commissioner (pdf)
Second Letter from the Office of the Commissioner (pdf)
Letter from the Attorney (pdf)

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