A brief history of the dishonourable and dishonest Berning Ntlemeza
Hawks boss, Berning Ntlemeza - Picture: Gallo
Mthandazo Berning Ntlemeza’s rise to become one of SA’s most powerful law enforcers in SA did not get off to an auspicious start.
Before he was even permanently appointed to head the elite police unit, the Directorate For Priority Crime Investigation, called the “the Hawks”, he was already mired in litigation.
This was because Ntlemeza — before that, a little known deputy provincial police commissioner in Limpopo — was made acting Hawks head on the back of the dramatic suspension of his predecessor Anwa Dramat.
When Dramat stepped down as Hawks head last year he said in court papers that the reason for his (illegal) suspension by Police Minister Nathi Nhleko was a smokescreen.
Nhleko had alleged that Dramat had a hand in the unlawful rendition of Zimbabwean fugitives, two of whom had been killed on their return to Zimbabwe. But Dramat claimed that, in truth, he was being axed because of high level investigations he had been overseeing.
So it was inevitable that anyone replacing Dramat would be regarded with intense suspicion.
The suspicion was exacerbated by the claims of Gauteng Hawks head Shadrack Sibiya, whose suspension followed Dramat’s. In his case, he said he had been targeted because of his role in investigating and arresting former crime intelligence head Richard Mdluli.
Criminal charges against Mdluli were dropped unlawfully, and were reinstated only after an order from the Supreme Court of Appeal.
Ntlemeza was an “Mdluli- ally” claimed Sibiya in court papers when he challenged the lawfulness of his suspension.
Commentators then recalled that when an inquest was held into the death of Oupa Ramogibe — the husband of Mdluli’s ex girlfriend — Mdluli had submitted a report exonerating him and saying that the allegations that he had murdered Ramogibe were part of a plot to prevent his becoming crime intelligence head. The report had been compiled by Ntlemeza.
But Ntlemeza has strongly denied Sibiya’s claims in his own court papers, with his counsel saying in court that Sibiya’s version of why he was suspended was "far-fetched" and a "conspiracy theory", and that he had not brought the facts to court to back it up.
In his answering affidavit, Ntlemeza said: "I deny in the strongest terms the insinuation by the applicant of any ulterior motive or conspiracy to get rid of him. I absolutely have no such motive."
He also strenuously countered a news report during his acting stint that he had undertaken a major reshuffle, in particular replacing high level officials in charge of corruption investigations.
In court papers filed during that period, Ntlemeza said he was aware that his position was a temporary one. "I had not contemplated major reshuffling, or taking major decisions," he said.
However, once he was permanently appointed, in September 2015, one of his first moves was indeed a major reshuffle: he appointed new provincial heads for every one of the nine provinces.
In court papers he said on his appointment there were 1200 internal vacancies in the Hawks. “I am none the wiser as to how filling posts ... is unlawful and irreparably harmful to the interests of the public,” he said.
A warning statement deposed to by Ipid investigator Innocent Khuba in his criminal trial suggests that Ntlemeza and his “political principles” had long planned to have him head up the Hawks and that the rendition investigation, which would implicate Dramat, was a key part of the plan.
Khuba links Mdluli to the plan, saying that Ntlemeza had told him Mdluli would protect his safety during the course of his investigation.
Ntlemeza has never directly responded to these claims, with his spokesman saying the matter was before court, but the allegation may be tested during the trial.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle the Hawks head must overcome was the stinging rebuke by Pretoria High Court Judge Elias Matojane, who called him dishonest, lacking in integrity and dishonourable.
Matojane said: “In my view, the conduct of the third respondent (Ntlemeza) shows that he is biased and dishonest. To further show that third respondent is dishonest and lacks integrity and honour, he made false statements under oath”.
The false statements included that a key witness in the rendition investigation Ndanduleni Madilonga had died under mysterious circumstances, when his death certificate said he had died of natural causes, said the judge.
The judge took umbrage at an accusation that there had been irregularities in the conduct of the case and added that Ntlemeza had not revealed two versions of Ipid’s report into the renditions, one of them exonerating Sibiya.
The SAPS Act requires the Hawks head to be fit and proper with “due regard to his or her experience, conscientiousness and integrity”.
The South African Police Service Act gives the national head of the Hawks extensive powers, including determining which types of crimes fall under it. So it was unsurprising that when he was permanently appointed, it was immediately challenged in court.
Ntlemeza’s spokesman, Hangwani Mulaudzi, said Judge Matojane’s criticism was “his opinion” and was not part of the order of the court.
In his court papers, Ntlemeza said he had never accused the judge of irregularities; instead he had always laid the accusation squarely at the feet of Sibiya’s lawyers.
He insisted that there was “only one report” by Ipid into the rendition allegations, and not two as claimed by the judge, because the so-called second report had been found by Werksmans attorneys to be fraudulent.
He did not directly answer in his affidavit the finding about the statements he made under oath.
In announcing Ntlemeza’s appointment, Nhleko emphasised Ntlemeza’s long service and the fact that he was a career policeman.
According to his CV and resume, Ntlemeza began his career in 1982 in the former Transkei and “progressed through the ranks as an investigator”.
In an interview with City Press in June, he reportedly said those calling him an Apartheid-era policeman should “chill”.
“All those police officers who were incorporated into the police service after 1994 are apartheid cops. So, should they be fired as well as me?” he shrugged,” says the report.
In 1996 Ntlemeza became a Commander- Detective Branch in Alexandra, Gauteng. He moved between Gauteng and the Eastern Cape and then — according to his CV — in 2003 was posted to Limpopo as deputy provincial commissioner.
In 2014 he was appointed to act as head of the Hawks.
In his court papers in the dispute over the lawfulness of his permanent appointment, Ntlemeza deals with criticism of his approach to the investigation of the SARS “rogue unit”, in particular the now infamous 27 questions sent to Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.
Ntlemeza said he was acting within his powers to to ask questions, as a criminal case been opened on the rogue unit and Gordhan had been commissioner of Sars at the time. “Had I not acted by investigating, I would be violating the duties imposed on me by section 17D of the SAPS Act,” he said.
The case over the lawfulness of his appointment is set down for early December.
But it is unlikely to be the end of his legal wrangles. Sibiya has challenged his dismissal in the Labour Court. If Gordhan is ever criminally charged, a court case challenging those charges is likely, as his lawyers have already said there was no legal basis to treat him as a suspect.
Moreover should Parliament decide not to initiate disciplinary proceedings against National head of Ipid Robert McBride, and he returns to work, Ntlemeza may face investigations.
It is understood that there were at least two complaints against him pending with police watchdog that might be revived.
But Mulaudzi said the complaints before Ipid had been dismissed. He said Ntlemeza had fully cooperated in the investigation and it was taken to the NPA. “There was no basis found to the allegation... They are done and dusted,” he said.