14/04/2017 07:08 SAST | Updated 14/04/2017 09:49 SAST

'Big Money' Crimes, Hawks' Matakata Is Coming For You

The acting Hawks boss says she will ensure they "focus on serious commercial crime".

Mike Hutchings / Reuters
South African Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula addresses a media conference in Cape Town, March 17, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

The newly appointed acting head of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks), says she will make sure the unit combats serious commercial crimes and corruption.

Lieutenant General Yolisa Matakata told reporters on Thursday that she would ensure that the Hawks continued to deliver on the mandate given to the unit by government.

"We are going to continue in ensuring that the DPCI [Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation] delivers on the mandate given to them by government: to focus on serious commercial crime that is big economics in the country," Matakata said.

"We have to deal with serious corruption that is big in terms of the value of money, in terms of billions. That is our mandate...and making sure that the people of this country have confidence in the Hawks," she said.

She said South Africans may not be aware of the good work the Hawks were doing because of the attention one particular case, which was believed to be politically motivated, had received in the media.

She said she would steer clear of any cases not relating to the combating of crime.

"The legislation is very clear about what the Hawks should focus on and that is my primary focus, to ensure that we deliver on what the legislation is asking the Hawks to deliver on.

"And that we don't get involved in any political issues that have nothing to do with us investigating crime."

'We are here to serve the country'

Police Minister Fikile Mbalula appointed Matakata following a decision by the High Court in Pretoria on Wednesday to dismiss Berning Ntlemeza's application to appeal its judgment which found that when then police minister Nathi Nhleko appointed him as head of the Hawks, he ignored two court judgments which found that Ntlemeza lacked integrity and honesty.

The court found that the findings in both judgments constituted "direct evidence" that Ntlemeza lacked the requisite honesty, integrity and conscientiousness to hold public office.

Shortly after the court announced its decision, Mbalula withdrew the ministry's application to appeal the matter.

Talking to reporters on Thursday, Mbalula explained that his reasons for withdrawing were in the best interest of the public as he did not want to waste any more of the department's money on a case which had minimal prospects of success.

"In terms of the court judgment, General Ntlemeza is no longer the head of the Hawks and we are implementing the court decision."

He said the ministry was there to serve South Africa not individuals.

"There is nobody who has come to serve an individual, we are here to serve the country.

"And to that effect I have directed [Acting National Police Commissioner Khomotso Phahlane] from yesterday to get everything that belongs to the state from General Ntlemeza [with] immediate effect and that must be handed over to the new acting Lieutenant General [Matakata]," Mbalula said.

"As to whether that will be complied with is another case. If not, steps will be taken to ensure that there is peace and harmony.

"There is no need for fighting because our actions have not been malicious; it was to ensure that we implement what in our view is in the best interest of South Africans."

Phahlane 'a good policeman'

Mbalula said his relationship with the SA Police Service and the acting police commissioner was good and despite what the media had reported on Phahlane, he was a professional police officer.

"From a point of view of his conduct... he's been a good policeman to me and my team and has executed his mandate to the best of his ability and we want to maintain it as such going forward.

"He has never done anything that seeks to suggest to me that I must doubt him," Mbalula said.

He said suspended national police commissioner Riah Phiyega's contract would be coming to an end in June and the department would begin looking for her replacement - a position he hoped to fill by the end of the year.

He asked for space, saying the media should not pressure him into making any abrupt decisions.

"I can see most of you are campaigning that I must get rid of him, please give me a chance. Don't campaign, this is not an election.

"We are dealing with security matters and we are dealing with the police. We are not dealing with a spaza shop, so don't push us to the point [where] we must take decisions on our feet."

Appointment commended

Mbalula also accused the media of shifting the goal posts when asked whether any of the appointments made by Ntlemeza during his tenure would go under review.

"Most of you are now changing the goal posts. Ntlemeza is done, now we must chase other people. What is your agenda? Is your agenda to fight crime?" he asked.

He then said senior management within the Hawks would make determinations on the way forward on the matter.

"But equally, there are capable people in the Hawks who must continue with their work.

"We can't bring instability and crisis and bring the state to a total halt. There are criminals who are grinding outside and I aim to ensure that that grinding stops."

Civil society group Save SA, the SA Communist Party and the Congress of the People (Cope) have all commended Mbalula on his decision.

"In recent times, it's been rare for a Cabinet minister to follow legal advice and Minister Mbalula has made the correct decision in doing so – particularly as his predecessor's aim was clearly to undermine the state's corruption-busting potential," Save SA's Chris Vick said in a statement.

ANC government 'own goals'

He said Mbalula would now face the challenge of ensuring that the public could have confidence in Matakata and that she, herself, used the position to "address rampant corruption rather than playing politics".

SACP spokesperson Alex Mashilo said Ntlemeza's appointment and its defence by his bosses were own goals for the government and the ANC.

"He should not have been appointed to the position to start with. His appointment and its consistent defence by the appointing authorities were two of the many own goals impacting negatively on the confidence of our people in our government and the ANC-led alliance."

Cope spokesperson Dennis Bloem said the decision was "long overdue".

"Cope has, over time, called for Ntlemeza's removal. We said that Ntlemeza is dishonest, disgraceful and lacks integrity and was labelled by a judge of the High Court as a liar, and therefore is not fit to occupy this office," Bloem said.