Cape Town - Documents in the possession of the Cape Times have exposed the extent to which the City’s Special Investigative Unit (SIU) operated outside of its mandate and as a parallel police force, investigating serious crimes such as murders and attempted murders, despite not having the authority to do so.
A list of high-profile cases investigated by the SIU, headed by safety and security Mayco member JP Smith, includes the murders of councillors and metro police, rapes allegedly committed by City staff, and even involvement in an Interpol investigation.
The SIU was at the centre of a spat that erupted between Smith and mayor Patricia de Lille.
Troubles surrounding De Lille started when she moved to clip the wings of the unit, saying it was usurping the work of the police and was unnecessarily looking into the affairs of councillors.
Smith and De Lille were subsequently placed on special leave from all DA activities in the Cape Town Metro after Smith questioned De Lille’s “shutdown” attempt.
Smith charged in a letter to DA leader Mmusi Maimane, leaked to certain media, that De Lille wanted to see the back of the unit because it was about to expose her upgrading of security and private building work at her home at the state’s expense.
This allegation was later refuted by speaker Dirk Smit, who said security upgrades at the house were required by the police and were properly paid for by the state, but De Lille had paid for non-security renovations herself.
In May, DA Western Cape provincial leader Bonginkosi Madikizela announced the unit had been reinstated, having achieved a number of successes with numerous issues facing the City, including dealing with gang violence, taxi violence, housing fraud, land invasions, corruption and licensing fraud.
But in a letter dated November 7, Major-General Felix Mbeki, the police’s provincial head for legal and policy services, informed the City that the metro police service had not been allocated investigative powers and functions.
Smith yesterday said the unit had conducted “shadow investigations” to support an understaffed and under-resourced national police force.
Included among “high-profile cases investigated before the closure of SIU” is the murder of DA ward councillor Xolile Gwangxu, shot dead in Philippi East after wrapping up a meeting last year, and the murder of metro police officer Ben Koopman, who was robbed of his service pistol and shot outside his home in Eerste River in 2016.
The unit also investigated a case of attempted murder and hijacking of councillor Suzette Little in Athlone.
The investigation of a hostage situation involving councillor Xanthea Limberg was also on the list.
It is also noted that the SIU was involved in an international investigation by Interpol, and traced a suspect implicated in business fraud amounting to R60 million, also providing information that lead to an arrest.
The unit also investigated metro and traffic officers implicated in rape. On the list, too, was the investigation of the gang-related rape of a minor.
The document also details an investigation into charges of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm, incitement to commit murder, intimidation and convening two illegal gatherings against ANC provincial executive committee member Andile Lili.
Offences including contempt of court, culpable homicide, housing fraud, robbery, land invasions, dealing in narcotics, extortion and corruption were on the list.
Smith said at a time of poor conviction rates, the unit had assisted in efforts to bring criminals to book.
He said when angry communities demanded speedy action, the City listened: “When you have a situation where police service gets poorer and the pressure from the public is on you to deal with gangs local government can sit back, or explore the opportunities to remedy the situation. The SIU is trying to, within our extremely limited powers, deal with challenges where national government is failing.”
He emphasised that these were not autonomous investigations and, if asked, the SIU gladly assisted police. “These cases (the murders of councillors and metro police) got so little attention, there is never justice for these officers. The families can get closure.”
The word “investigation” and what constituted an investigation, was a matter of interpretation, Smith said.
“The work they are doing is solid work, assisting Saps with convictions,” he added.
Smith said he was seeking legal advice about interpretation around the matter.
He then told this reporter that she should come along to an Ocean View community meeting where he would inform the angered community that “Lisa Isaacs and Friends of Crime” were against the City assisting them - in order to see their reaction.
Friends of Crime was a concerted effort to undo the help the City was providing its citizens, he said. Smith said the community would not be happy being told that the City could not help them in an area recently in the headlines for rampant gangsterism.
Smith then said he would be calling a press conference where the documents cited by the Cape Times would be made available to all, and he would explain how elements were working to stop the much-needed work of the SIU.
He said it was the responsibility of local government to listen to the communities they served.