Illegal firearms on the Cape Flats, and what this has to do with Jacques Pauw’s The President’s Keepers

Review: Vivien Horler

The President’s Keepers: Those keeping Zuma in power and out of prison, by Jacques Pauw (Tafelberg)


Excuse the squeaking noise – my eyes have been out on stalks and I’m reeling them back in.

A variety of emotions go through your mind as you read The President’s  Keepers, from depression (lots) to mirth (not so much), from wanting a double brandy to wanting to emigrate.

Much of what Jacques Pauw writes is not new. You have read and heard hints here and there, and he quotes extensively from journalists such as Marianne Thamm, Richard Poplak, and Justice Malala as well as publications like the Daily Maverick, the Mail & Guardian and City Press.

The reason this book is so compelling is that Pauw has taken Pravin Gordhan’s advice and joined a hell of a lot of dots. And what emerges is a relentless account of venality, evil, corruption, sleaze, treachery and greed. Oh, and arrogance and contempt.

A review can’t begin to do the book justice. There are so many stories, so many outrageous details. All the usual suspects are here, starting with Shaun Abrahams, Glenn Agliotti, Cyril Beeka, Jerome “Donkey” Booysen, Eugene de Kock, Arthur Fraser, Malusi Gigaba, all the Guptas, Fana Hlongwane, Michael Hulley, Lolly Jackson, Nomgcobo Jiba, Yusuf  Kajee, Brett Kebble, Radovan Krejcir, Mark Lifman, David Mahlobo, Bonisiwe Makhene, Quinton Marinus, Adriano Mazzotti, Richard Mdluli, Prince Mokotedi, Roy Moodley, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, Tom Moyane, Mokotedi Mpshe, Lawrence Mrwebi, Berning Ntlemeza, Khomotso Phahlane, Riah Phiyega, Vivian Reddy, Jackie Selebi, Moe and Schabir Shaik, Colin Stansfield, Belinda Walter – and all the Zumas.

How can the president of a country have connections with the likes of some of that lot?

Then there are the others: Jeremy Vearey, Robert McBride, Anwa Dramat, Shadrack Sibiya, Johann van Loggerenberg, Johan Booysen – people whose names have been in the papers, sometimes painted as the good guys, sometimes as the bad, and one hasn’t known what to think.

As recently as August this year City Press reported it had a copy of a report on a top-secret crime intelligence operation called Project Wonder, which detailed plans to plant evidence against Police Minister Fikile Mbalula to get him fired. That came out at the same time it was reported that McBride had assaulted his daughter, and a week after reports that Cyril Ramaphosa had beaten his wife.

One feels outraged to read about Jacob Zuma’s alleged tax evasion, about suspended crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli collecting R8.3million in salary while on suspension since 2011, and a bonus of R413 957 – he is being investigated for murder. Then there was the case of former acting police commissioner Khomotso Phahlane, appointed in 2015, who in a three-year period owned several luxury cars worth R4.3m.

This week the NPA said it would not prosecute Phahlane on charges of defeating the ends of justice, relating to allegations that Phahlane interfered with the investigation by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate into charges of fraud and corruption against him.

One also feels outraged that not only is taxpayers’ money being squandered, SARS is failing to collect billions that should be in the fiscus. No wonder Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba is predicting a shortfall in taxes.

I can’t go into all that here. But the story about Operation Impi and the guns on the Cape Flats is shocking.

Around 2012 Jeremy Vearey, then deputy provincial commissioner for detective services in the Western Cape, and Peter Jacobs, head of crime intelligence in the province, noticed an influx of weapons being used in crimes on the Cape Flats. One of the people shot was six-year-old Leeyana van Wyk of Hanover Park.

The policemen began investigating why a number of guns they had confiscated  had had their serial numbers removed in a way that indicated the work of a professional gunsmith.

The policemen’s work led them to a Pretoria policeman, Colonel Christiaan Lodewyk Prinsloo, the custodian of an armoury where firearms were stored before being destroyed. This was a man who had not touched his police salary for two years, but who could afford overseas holidays. His house was raided in January 2015 and police found illegal guns, ammunition and R120 000 in cash.

Prinsloo made a plea bargain with the state, and said he had sold arms and ammunition worth R9million to gangsters, many of them on the Cape Flats. Among the weapons were 2 000 sold to a middleman called Irshaad “Hunter” Laher of Cape Town, who in turn allegedly sold them to gangsters.

Prinsloo’s trial heard that 900 of his guns had been recovered and linked to 2 784 violent crimes in the Western Cape including 1 066 murders. That meant about 1 100 guns were still in circulation. Prinsloo got 46 years in jail.

Laher was charged with racketeering, corruption, possession of prohibited firearms and money laundering. He is out on bail of R100 000, and his case is due to be heard in the High Court.

In September 2015 Vearey and Jacobs proposed to then police commissioner Riah Phiyega that Operation Impi should be extended for three years. But three weeks later Phiyega was suspended, and her replacement, acting commissioner Khomotso Phahlane, did not approve the extension.

In June 2016 Vearey and Jacobs were effectively demoted, Vearey to become cluster commander of Cape Town police stations, and Jacobs to a similar position in Wynberg.

The policemen approached the Labour Court, because police management was unable to give any motivation for why they had been demoted. Vearey said in papers to court he believed that the Prinsloo firearms needed to be recovered before more people died.

The Hawks had taken over the investigation, said Vearey, but they lacked the knowledge or expertise to make progress. So who will prepare for Laher’s High Court trial? His is not the only pending case relating to Operation Impi. Even Rodney de Kock, director of public prosecutions in the province, has pleaded with police management to extend Operation Impi, to no avail.

Trouble is, Vearey is an independent-minded cop and had been involved in the investigation to claims by Vytjie Mentoor, a senior ANC MP, that efforts had been made at the Saxonwold Shebeen to “capture” her. Pauw believes this may have been part of the reason for Vearey’s demotion.

So was Zuma involved in the decision? Pauw writes: “It wasn’t necessary for Phahlane or (former Hawks boss Berning ) Ntlemeza to consult Zuma about Vearey. If you employ rapid dogs at the head of your pack, you don’t have to order them to attack. You simply let them loose.”

In August this year a Labour Court judge ruled that Vearey and Jacobs’s demotion should be set aside to allow them to return to their old positions. Days later police management announced it would appeal the finding, which meant Vearey remained in his demoted position. Meanwhile those 1000 firearms are still out there on the Cape Flats.

Pauw looks ahead to the ANC’s elective conference next month and the 2019 general election. He writes: “After living for several months on the edge of this spectral realm where Zuma’s keepers skulk and plot, I think South Africans should guard against the very real possibility that they will attempt to rig, steal and influence both the ANC’s national conference and the general election.”

Should Cyril Ramaphosa become ANC president, Pauw says, there is a real possibility of Zuma going to prison. “It is therefore imperative for Zuma that the law enforcement agencies continue to be paralysed by incompetence and cronyism and the Treasury and parastatals are stripped of proficient leadership to bare them for the final act of pillage.”

Pauw says people who have thought Zuma was down and out have under-estimated him. “Beware: his middle name is not for nothing Gedleyihlekisa. It means ‘the one who laughs while grinding his enemies’.”

Pauw submitted his manuscript to Tafelberg in September, but the story is not over. The State Security Agency, which does not come out of this well, has laid charges against Pauw and Tafelberg, alleging they have published classified information. And Exclusive Books is investigating why the book launch in Johannesburg on Wednesday had to be called off after the electricity went out at the Hyde Park shopping centre.

This book is powerful wake-up call, and we should all heed the alarm Pauw has sounded. It is being launched at Kelvin Grove in Rondebosch on Wednesday at 5.30pm for 6pm – see you there.

  • This review is also published in Weekend Argus on Sunday on November 12, 2017

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