File picture: Thomas Holder

Johannesburg - The Defence Force still hasn’t found out how an armed robber evaded jail for more than a decade, ducked security clearances and was promoted to head of a provincial tactical headquarters.

It was only after Colonel Nceba Bobelo was exposed by the media last year that the SANDF took action and fired him, and he went to jail. He has since died.

This week, it emerged that the Department of Defence was still investigating how Bobelo not only held on to his job but rose to the position of officer commanding the Joint Operations Tactical Headquarters in Mpumalanga.

“A board of inquiry (BOI) has been convened to investigate all aspects pertaining to this member.

“The BOI, which is still in process, will make findings and recommendations with regard to the salary and benefits due to the member since his sentencing and the application of the relevant policy prescripts,” said Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.

She was replying to a parliamentary question from Freedom Front Plus MP Pieter Groenewald, who wanted to know what steps the military was taking to recover salary and benefits unlawfully paid to Bobelo since his sentencing in December 1998.

“The member was discharged from the SANDF on October 22, 2013 and has since passed away,” said Mapisa-Nqakula.

In January, in response to a previous parliamentary question from Groenewald, Mapisa-Nqakula admitted that the SANDF had not been aware of Bobelo’s conviction for the armed robbery of an Eastern Cape police station.

“This issue was in the domain of the SAPS. However, the SANDF is investigating how this oversight may have occurred,” she said at the time.

The minister also had to admit that the SANDF had failed to check on Bobelo’s security clearance.

“The member has no valid security clearance at present,” she said.

Mapisa-Nqakula said Bobelo’s security clearance – for the “secret” level – had lapsed in 2005 and he had not reapplied.

“Secret” and “Top Secret” clearances lapse after five years, while “Confidential” level clearances last 10 years.

Bobelo was an Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) commander in the Eastern Cape during the 1990s.

By 1992 or 1993, Bobelo moved from politics into crime. He set up what was referred to at the time as a rogue MK unit operating in the Queenstown area of the Eastern Cape, and the ANC kicked him out of the party.

In June 1993, Bobelo was allegedly part of a gang that broke into a home in Ezibeleni near Queenstown and shot dead Nceba Fritz.

Bobelo, who allegedly supplied the guns for the attack, and two others were charged with murder over this.

They were released on R300 bail each.

At this time, media reports referred to Bobelo as a former MK commander.

In July 1993, Bobelo was arrested at a police roadblock near Grahamstown, in possession of an unlicensed weapon. He was held for 10 days and then released.

After the 1994 elections, Bobelo was integrated into the new SANDF, although it is not clear how, as the ANC was supposed to have disowned him by then. It is also not clear when he became a member, because the integration process was slow.

On March 6, 1995, at 4.30am, Bobelo was part of a gang of eight armed with guns and a handgrenade that robbed Ntabethemba police station.

Two policemen were on duty at the time. They were not harmed in the incident.

By December 1998, Bobelo and three others were convicted and sentenced to 12-year jail terms, with three years suspended.

In November 2001, his appeal at the Supreme Court of Appeal failed and he was supposed to go to jail. At the time, the court noted that he was a captain in the SANDF.

Bobelo’s security clearance lapsed in 2005 and was never renewed.

On October 16 last year, Bobelo was exposed by Beeld newspaper.

On October 22, the SANDF arrested him and handed him over to the police and Correctional Services.

Bobelo was fired by the SANDF on the same day. He died on On April 13.

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The Star