Special forces accused of torture and murder


Special forces accused of torture and murder

Open Secrets claims a ‘death squad' is operating in the South African National Defence Force. Where do the allegations come from, and what are we to make of the SANDF's denials?


THE chief of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), Gen Rudzani Maphwanya, led a news conference last week in response to an investigation by Open Secrets published by the Daily Maverick and broadcast by Carte Blanche on December 3.

It alleges that an elite group within the SANDF does not care about the laws of the land and has tortured detainees and carried out the political murder of a senior policeman. The mystery surrounding the Russian cargo ship Lady R, which docked in the Simon's Town naval base last December, and the involvement of such a SANDF group in that affair, is central to Open Secrets' investigation.

Open Secrets asked questions in September about the SANDF's possible involvement in the murder of Lt-Col Frans Mathipa of the Hawks on August 6 but the defence force's reaction was muted. Even at last week's news conference, Maphwanya did not refer to the substance of the “alarming allegations" but referred to their publication as “an act of defeating the ends of justice".

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

Open Secrets' investigation implicates the SANDF Special Forces Brigade, which legally cannot operate domestically without authorisation, in four incidents:

♦ The supposed removal and transport of goods from the Lady R in December 2022.

The kidnapping of Ethiopian citizen Abdella Hussein Abadiga from the Mall of Africa in Midrand on December 29, 2022. It is suspected that Abadiga's kidnapping is linked to  his inclusion on an American sanctions list because of alleged links to ISIS. Open Secrets' investigation points to the presence at the Mall of Africa on the day of the kidnapping of vehicles registered in the name of a suspected SANDF front company, Peters Communications Trust. The SANDF denies involvement in the kidnapping and says special forces operatives were engaged in a training exercise at the Mall of Africa that day.

The murder of Mathipa on August 6 while he was investigating Abadiga's kidnapping.

The alleged illegal detention and torture of a former state intelligence operative, Pule Nkomo, between March 21 and 26, 2020.

Daily Maverick published the results of Open Secrets' investigation in four parts:

A Russian Doll — an assassination, abductions and the mystery of the Lady R (August 14);

Who assassinated Frans Mathipa and how is the SANDF involved? (September 19);

EXPOSED — the SANDF ‘Torture’ Squad (November 29);

SANDF ‘Torture’ Squad victim speaks out (November 30).

In part three, Open Secrets revealed that the SANDF had convened a board of inquiry to investigate allegations of internal criminality. The inquiry was led by Brig-Gen John Moorhouse of defence intelligence and his final report was handed to Maphwanya in September.

Moorhouse's board of inquiry was confirmed at last Thursday's news conference by chief of defence intelligence Maj-Gen Thalita Mxakato, who said it was convened after the SANDF became aware of the allegations. “To my recollection, the issues of torture and many other things that have been reported did not form the basis of the board of inquiry (BOI). The BOI was instituted on the basis of allegations of corruption and cases that have not been concluded,” Mxakato told Daily Maverick.

Maphwanya did not respond to questions at the news conference about Moorhouse's report or the allegation that he was delaying acting on it. However, Lt-Gen Michael Ramantswana, the SANDF chief of staff, said: “We will conclude the board of inquiry without any pressure from anybody.”

Nkomo, the former operative who was allegedly tortured in custody in March 2020, told Carte Blanche's Govan Whittles that he is still being intimidated by SANDF members for speaking out. In response to questions about this, Maphwanya said he was “not aware" that “the whistle-blower was facing intimidation from the SANDF".

However, Hennie van Vuuren, director of Open Secrets, says Nkomo has submitted a claim for damages from the SANDF which contains details about the intimidation.

Van Vuuren rejected claims that any of the revelations were “fabricated" or that any of the journalists involved were guilty of a crime by not reporting their findings to the authorities: “That information has not only been reported to the SANDF, it has been reported to the chief of the SANDF. If this information is contained in the Moorhouse board of inquiry report, it is sitting on the desk of the chief of the SANDF and he has simply not acted on it.”   

Open Secrets has sent an open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa asking him to address the allegations urgently.

– Compiled by Willem Kempen

♦ VWB ♦

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