DA urges release of SANDF criminal activity report amid ongoing allegations

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The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) has submitted a Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) application to the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) for access to a report into criminal activity in the military as allegations continue to swirl over rogue unit activity that includes kidnapping and torture.

DA Shadow Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Kobus Marais last week said the PAIA application was submitted to the chief of the SANDF, General Rudzani Maphwanya.

“The SANDF is reported to have instituted a board of inquiry, headed by Brigadier-General John Moorhouse, to investigate complaints of alleged criminal activity within the military. As part of the investigation, the inquiry is said to have heard the testimonies of dozens of witnesses, shone the spotlight on corruption and abuse of office in the military, and heard evidence of torture,” Marais stated.

“However, six months after the conclusion of the inquiry, and its subsequent submission to General Maphwanya, the report has not been made public and neither was it tabled before the portfolio committee of Defence. The DA makes the submission that releasing the report is in the public interest because some of the victims of torture at the hands of rogue SANDF unit were civilians, whose cases have not been properly investigated and the perpetrators brought to book.”

Marais added that the DA is particularly concerned about the expose made by civil society organisation, Open Secrets, in which they highlight the existence of a military squad allegedly responsible for acts of torture and murder. This alleged rogue unit, comprising the Special Forces Brigade, the Military Police, Defence Intelligence and Defence Legal Services – “are operating with impunity and have raised concerns of a large-scale criminal conspiracy within the SANDF. Open Secrets further alleges that the activities of this rogue unit formed part of the Moorhouse board of inquiry,” Marais stated.

He believes the release of the Moorhouse investigation report will help to shed light on whether this rogue unit within the SANDF was in any way responsible for the 6 August assassination of Hawks investigator Frans Mathipa, who – at the time of his death, was conducting a criminal investigation into a Special Forces operative.

“In addition, the report will help to provide insight into the circumstances that led to the death of a civilian, Sphamandla, after hours of torture by some members of the rogue unit.” Open Secrets reported that 35-year-old Sphamandla was tortured to death during an interrogation over assault rifles stolen from the SA Army Engineer Formation in December 2019.

According to Marais, “democratic South Africa cannot afford to have a military that operates like a Gestapo force – assassinating, abducting and murdering citizens with impunity. All individuals implicated in these heinous crimes should be held accountable for their actions, and if found guilty, made to face the full wrath of the law.”

Open Secrets has to date published four stories on alleged criminality and rogue unit activity within the SANDF. “The evidence implicates at least four units of the SANDF in crimes dating back to 2019. They are the elite Special Forces Brigade, the Military Police, Defence Intelligence and Defence Legal Services. The lead Special Forces operative allegedly involved was also the subject of a criminal investigation by Hawks investigator Frans Mathipa shortly before Mathipa’s assassination by a sharpshooter. All this raises concerns of a large-scale criminal conspiracy within the SANDF,” Open Secrets’ Hennie van Vuuren wrote.

The first two parts of its ‘Russian Doll’ investigation revealed a SA National Defence Force Special Forces unit to be the owner of at least one luxury German car that accompanied cargo loaded off and possibly on to the sanctioned Russian ship Lady R in Simon’s Town in December 2022. Open Secrets subsequently linked that vehicle to a Special Forces operation three weeks later at the Mall of Africa in Midrand, the day alleged Islamic State financier Abdella Abadiga and his bodyguard were abducted from the mall.

In Part Three of its investigation, Open Secrets described, amongst others, alleged torture and murder implicating Special Forces members assisted by members of the Military Police and Defence Intelligence. Open Secrets reported that these officials had been instructed to recover 18 stolen SANDF-issue R4 rifles and a number of pistols following a much-publicised burglary at an army engineering base outside Pretoria in late 2019, leading to the torture of suspects.

Part four delved into further allegations of criminality within the SANDF, including testimony from Pule Nkomo, who was allegedly tortured in March 2020 in connection with the R4 theft (at the time, he was working as an informant for South African Police Service National Crime Intelligence).

On Thursday 7 December, Maphwanya will hold a press conference in Pretoria to address these allegations.