This stern warning came from the portfolio committee on police on Thursday after the Hawks had confirmed that charges against a 32-year-old Soshanguve man had been reduced from conspiracy to commit murder to incitement.
MPs from across the board accused the Hawks of being in such a hurry to arrest and charge the man that they could end up with egg on their face.
Acting national commissioner Lieutenant-General Khomotso Phahlane warned: “On the charges of the coup plot, one lesson we must learn from this unfortunate incident is that we must refrain from conducting investigations through the media. We must learn ourselves what information to communicate.”
Leonard Ramatlakane, of the ANC, questioned the formulation of the charges against the suspect.
“There has been this long discussion on the charges, and who decides on the charges. This can’t be the job of the National Prosecuting Authority,” he said.
Phillip Mhlongo of the EFF also accused the Hawks of bungling the case, as they had done with Gordhan last year.
He said they were in such haste, they ended up bringing unsustainable charges against Gordhan, and ended up withdrawing them in court, and the same thing would happen to the Soshanguve man.
He said the Hawks couldn’t be told by Parliament how to do their work. But the events of last week were an embarrassment.
“The reason the state has various arms of intelligence is for them to be able to know what charge to lay against a person who has been arrested. When an elite crime-fighting unit like the Hawks is being played games with by a man from a shack, something is seriously wrong. You will come out like what happened to former minister Pravin Gordhan – with your trousers pulled down,” said Mhlongo.
Angie Molebatsi of the ANC also questioned the Hawks’ hasty decision to arrest the man when the charges would not stick.
They knew the law required that a person who had been arrested had to be charged within 48 hours. “Why were the charges wrongly formulated?” asked Molebatsi.
Acting Hawks head Lieutenant-General Yolisa Matakata said they did not decide on the charges, as this was the job of the NPA.
She said they worked with prosecutors who formulated the charges against the suspect.
Zakhele Mbhele of the DA said he didn't buy the Hawks’ explanation that the NPA charged the suspect. He said it was clear there was no coup plot.