Brigadier Tiyani Hlungwani vs News24
Sun, May 3, 2020
Finding complaint 4334
Date of Publication: 29/3/19
Headline: Grabbing at thin air: Politics, internal squabbles cripple SAPS Crime Intelligence
Author: Mandy Wiener
This finding is based on a written complaint by Brigadier Tiyani Hlungwani and a written response from George Claassen, the public editor of News24, as well as the journalist concerned Ms Mandy Wiener, as well as further written responses to my queries from the publication. Brigadier Hlungwani did not respond to my text messages, calls or emailed queries.
Brigadier Tiyani Hlungwani, a senior officer in Crime Intelligence, complains that an article in News24, under the headline, “Grabbing at thin air: Politics, internal squabbles cripple SAPS Crime Intelligence” was inaccurate and unfair and that his views, as the subject of critical reportage, was not sought. He also complains that the article was “defamatory” of him, and that his name, in certain instances, was spelled incorrectly.
He does not specify the clauses of the Press Code that he complains have been transgressed, but from his complaint they are:
1. Gathering and reporting of news
The media shall:
- take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly;
1.2 present news in context and in a balanced manner, without any intentional or negligent departure from the facts whether by distortion, exaggeration or misrepresentation, material omissions, or summarization;
1.8 seek, if practicable, the views of the subject of critical reportage in advance of publication, except when they might be prevented from reporting, or evidence destroyed, or sources intimidated. Such a subject should be afforded reasonable time to respond; if unable to obtain comment, this shall be stated.
1.1 The article appeared under the heading, “Grabbing at thin air: Politics, internal squabbles crippled SAPS Crime Intelligence”
1.2 It is an in-depth investigative feature which looks in detail at the efficacy of police intelligence and the problems that has beset it in the past decade.
1.3 It begins with a classic “anecdotal” lead of three examples, two of which where police intelligence has been successful: the bust of a “drug manufacturing lab” in Hammanskraal and the seizure of weapons and narcotics, described by national police commissioner Kehla Sitole as “the result of an intelligence-driven operation”; the foiling of an attempted robbery at a petrol station in Johannesburg; and a Serbian man “with known links” to organized crime, “shot dead in a hit in Roodepoort”. This was at “least the fifth targeted killing” and there have been no arrests or breakthroughs.
1.4 The “focus” paragraph of the story reads: “This begs the question, how good is our police intelligence really, in light of a decade of gross abuse, negligence and capture.”
1.5 It then goes into details of the high-level review panel, chaired by Dr Sydney Mufamadi, on the State Security Agency, which “revealed damming evidence” about how it was “repurposed” to serve the interests of former president Jacob Zuma “and his cronies.”
Noting that there has been no equivalent review into Crime Intelligence, it says “but it is no secret…that over the last decade there has been looting, capture and very little actual crime-fighting and intelligence work…”
As examples of this, the writer mentions the allegations against the former head of Crime Intelligence in 2013/14, General Richard Mdluli and other top officials who were “plundering the secret slush fund.” Suspended for eight years, he earned over R12 m in that period. A series of acting heads all “left disgraced by one scandal or another”.
1.6 This was until Lieutenant
-General Peter Jacobs, a former Umkhonto we Sizwe commander, was brought in in an attempt to “right the ship.”
1.7 It details Commissioner Sitole’s evidence before the Parliamentary portfolio committee on police earlier that month saying while Crime Intelligence had been “affected”, it had not been “captured”.
1.8 Lt Gen Jacobs told the committee that the new management had done an internal audit and “robust review” of Crime Intelligence. He also said “disciplinary proceedings were slow and explained that while the sheer volume of charges against officials might leave some with the impression that certain people were being targeted, the sole reason was to turn the organisation around.”
1.9 However, Ms Wiener reports that “speaking to those deep inside the organisation”, the picture is more “ominous.”
“These interviews illustrate an environment that is still crippled from years of infighting, where officers are hamstrung by shoddy technical resources and a lack of political will. The result is a compromised capacity to fight crime, particularly organised crime,” she writes.
A “senior operative” told her that Lt Gen Jacobs was being “met with resistance from people who were supposed to support him."
1.10 The article states that Lt Gen Jacobs “has spent the past year trying to work out those who have been obstructive and who benefited from previous capture” but HR processes are “slow and tedious.”
1.11 She reports rumours of phone-tapping and spying amongst agents and says “undercover” projects, such as one into the “Serbian assassinations” remain “crippled”. However, she also quotes an agent saying there had been a “vast improvement” in the past year.
1.12 At this stage in the story she mentions Brigadier Hlungwani, describing him as the “financial section head” in Crime Intelligence who has authored a six-page grievance against Jacobs.
1.13 She also refers to a story done the previous year where she outlined “how Jacobs was facing a standoff within his unit, which was resulting in the freezing of operations as informer rewards were not being paid, rent payments for safe houses were being withheld and funds for operations were not being released.”
1.14 She describes a “criminal case involving Brigadier Hlungwani, former Crime Intelligence head Major General Pat Mokushane and head of technical support, Brigadier Leonora Bamuza-Phetlhe” as being at the centre of this.
The case arose from an allegation that Brigadier Bamuza-Phetlhe had R50 000 paid into her account from the secret service account. This was authorized by Major General Mokushane. The money was allegedly for catering services which cost only R5 000.
“This was done after Hlungwani allegedly approached a colonel in the secret service to make payment into Bamuza-Phetlhe's personal bank account.”
1.15 It also reports that Brigadier Hlungwani had submitted a grievance against Lt Gen Jacobs: “Hlungwani confirmed that he submitted a grievance against Jacobs but would not comment further, saying he was not permitted to do so.”
“In the grievance, Hlungwani complains about Jacobs' ‘autocratic management style’, unfair discrimination, racism, perjury, defeating the ends of justice and maladministration.
“Hlungwani alleges that Jacobs, a former MK soldier with a well-documented record of fighting the apartheid government, is racist. Jacobs is also accused of failing to take steps against senior managers and other employees who committed criminal offences, and of failing to report crimes in terms of the Corruption Act.”
1.16 Brig Hlungwani also “gave examples of how a major general and a lieutenant colonel used secret services account funds to book accommodation and submit fraudulent claims and used a safe house as their place of residence without authority at exorbitant rentals... He complained that the incidents were never reported for investigation.”
1.17 The article reports that the police “did not officially confirm that a grievance was lodged against Jacobs, but spokesperson Brigadier Vish Naidoo said ‘the mere fact that a member is able to lodge a grievance against the head of a division, is a confirmation that members have avenues for recourse.’”
He did not respond to “detailed questions” but said: “Since the appointment of Lieutenant General Jacobs as the head of Crime Intelligence a few months ago, a turnaround strategy was adopted. We can confidently say that the Crime Intelligence environment is now operating with greater effect ..”.
“It's understood that this fight between Bamuza-Phetlhe and Hlungwane (sic) and their bosses at Crime Intelligence is the main battleground for the pushback against Jacobs..”
1.18 The writer refers to her December article where “Bamuza-Phetlhe insisted she was not untouchable and was not part of any kind of cabal attempting to oust Jacobs. She said she and Hlungwane (sic) were not part of a faction. She also doesn't understand why some MPs have labelled her as untouchable and says she just wants to do her work, which is to fight crime.”
1.19 Under a sub-head: “A Case study: grabbing at thin air”, the article explains that “grabbers” are crucial in police intelligence work. “Officially known as an IMSI-catcher, the phone signal grabber is used to conduct surveillance as part of police operations. Theoretically, it can intercept calls and locate devices through transmitted signals.”
1.20 The operation of “grabbers” in the police falls under the tracking and locating office within Crime Intelligence. “News24 has been told that only three of the eleven owned by SAPS are currently operational and the work of these four is intermittent and unstable.”
These grabbers only work on “old technology”, which means they cannot intercept calls but can only locate devices.
1.21 “A 2017 bid to buy new grabbers for the police was urgently put on ice when it emerged that the procurement process was being hijacked, allegedly to finance votes at the ANC's elective conference in Nasrec…
“According to court papers, it emerged that the grabbers, which ordinarily retail for R7m on the open market, were to be purchased at the inflated price of R45m a piece and the excess funds were to be siphoned off for bribes.” This emerged in an investigation by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), and when Commissioner Sitole heard about it, “he immediately stopped payment to the service provider, I-View.”
1.22 Brigadier Hlungwani is mentioned in this regard again: the article reports that another attempt by Lt Gen Jacobs to buy “grabbers” from a different service provider “is also believed to have been frozen. Several sources said that this is a result of the Hlungwane (sic) complaint. The chief financial officer has apparently asked Treasury not to approve the funding and the procurement has stalled. As a result, officers on the ground are hobbling along with crippled devices.”
1.23 The article goes on to report other problems in the Gauteng “tracking and locating” office, including that almost the entire complement of officers in that section was "grounded" in April 2018. They were paid full salaries but not allowed to work. It reports other evidence of friction such as that General Kulele was moved from his post as head of Crime Intelligence in Gauteng, and how the police officer tipped to replace him was being charged with obstructing the ends of justice.
1.24 It reports in some detail tensions in the Western Cape and that the police have emerged as a ”proxy for an underworld battle between factions vying for control of nightclub security and the drug trade.”
1.25 The conclusion of the article is that the organisation is “riddled with politics and internal squabbles, distracted from the real work of gathering intelligence to fight crime.”
2. The arguments
2.1 Brigadier Hlungwani argues that the article is “defamatory and intended to ruin my good name without having given me the opportunity to respond.”
2.2 He also argues that the reporting is “unfair and inaccurate.”
2.3 He says there is no “stand-off” between himself and Lt Gen Jacobs, “especially about my criminal case”. He also says the journalist is aware that he and his co-accused were acquitted of similar charges in an internal disciplinary hearing “but fails to mention that.”
2.4 On the claim that the R50 000 paid into Bamuza-Phethle’s account from a “secret service account for catering at meeting” was done “after Hlungwani allegedly approached a Colonel in the secret service”, he says: “I have approached no such colonel and if the journalist bothered to know there was nothing wrong in the money being transferred into Phethle’s account in terms of the PFMA and its Treasury regulations.. This is to push some narrative that I am corrupt.”
2.5 He also points out that the article occasionally misspells his name as “Hlungwane”, as in this sentence: “It is understood that that this fight between Bamuza-Phetlhe and Hlungwane and their bosses at Crime Intelligence is the main battleground against Jacobs.” He writes: “I do not know which boss am I fighting at Crime Intelligence as I only report to one person and have had good principle based working relations with my supervisor…And which battle am I lodging with Lt-Gen Jacobs? The mere fact that I have lodged a grievance against Lt Gen Jacobs does not mean that I am in a battle with [him].”
2.6 He also objects to the quote from a “senior officer” which refers to the “Phetlhe ‘gang’” “just after my name is mentioned in the same sentence…and us being in ‘conflict’ with our bosses.”
2.7 He says he was not given an opportunity to comment “on this and the reporting is incorrect and malicious.”
2.8 He refers to the sentence about the attempt to buy new grabbers from a different service provider “being frozen” as a “result of the Hlungwane (sic) complaint. The chief financial officer has apparently asked Treasury not to approve the funding and the procurement has stalled.”
He says this is “factually incorrect”. He said he had written to the journalist after the article was published “demanding a retraction.” He says he was only given the application in December 2018 “and raised a number of non-compliances with the PFMA for rectification…it was never as a result of any complaint from me that the equipment was never bought.”
2.9 He also objects to the line: “the Chief Financial Officer has apparently asked Treasury not to approve the funding and the procurement stalled”. He says he “engaged Mandy” on this issue, demanding a retraction. She had asked what his title was and he told her he was not the CFO and “she indicated the line was not referring to me.”
“I find this funny as it is written just after my so called ‘complaint’ which has frozen the process to procure the equipment.”
2.10 He says all letters pertaining to funding from the Treasury go through his office “therefore it would be interesting to know if Mandy has seen such a letter and why would that letter be sent to Treasury not to approve funding as the National Treasury allocates funds for the financial year and not on a piece meal basis.”
2.11 He argues this is a “classic” example of “biased and embedded journalism meant to ruin people’s reputations and destroy careers for partisan purposes in the name of independent journalism.”
2.12 He says Ms Wiener’s article is based on “hearsay” without “documentary evidence”. The story is “way off the mark and her story is fictitious to say the least.” He says he is disappointed that this “respected” journalist can “write such drivel without my view as the subject of this critical and defamatory reporting.”
2.13 Dr George Claassen, public editor of News24, as well as Ms Wiener herself, answered the complaint.
2.14 In an initial response, they offered to publish Mr Hlungwani’s response. Dr Claassen writes: “There was extensive communication between Mandy and Brigadier Hlungwani…in which he refused to comment when approached for the article in December 2018.” The March article consisted of “few new allegations, barring the one that a procurement process for new grabbers had been stalled.”
2.15 Mandy Wiener herself responds, referring to her earlier article in this series published in December 2018. “The story was essentially an overarching look at SAPS Crime Intelligence. In relation to Brigadier Hlugwane (sic), this March story drew largely on [that] report..”
2.16 She says in December she had “engaged with Brigadier Hlungwani extensively and repeatedly asked him for comment. He willingly sent through documents and wrote multiple WhatsApp messages but refused to go on comment [I assume she means on the record] and respond to allegations or give his version of events. I endeavoured to explain to him that in the interests of balance, we wanted to present both sides but he declined.”
2.17 When she wrote the follow-up story, as Brig Hlungwani had already “made it quite clear that he would not be able to comment on this matter, I did not go back to [him] for comment on the March article. I was of the view that we had already covered that ground. While he was willing to comment extensively off the record, he was not willing to make these views public in any way.”
As evidence she sent me screenshots of her WhatsApp correspondence with Brigadier Hlungwani.
2.18 She says when the story was published, Brig Hlungwani wrote to her asking for a retraction, and copied the senior leadership at Crime Intelligence. She then suggested publishing his email in full “in order to present the public with his side of the story, in the interests of balance.”
She also said that in the original article she had referred to Brigadier Hlungwani as the “Chief Financial Officer” and he pointed out that this was incorrect. It was “immediately” corrected in the published article. However in the March article, he was correctly referred to as the “financial section head’ although there was a reference to the “Chief Financial Officer.”
2.19 In response, Brigadier Hlungwani says he does not agree with “Mandy’s version of events.”
He says he is willing to accept the right of reply but only if it is published “in full” for both stories.
“It is also inexcusable that a journalist would not afford one the opportunity to give his version on the basis that the previous time he/she has refused to comment.”
2.20 He accuses Ms Wiener of choosing “to be a mouthpiece of a faction led by Lt-General Jacobs”; he also accuses her of conveying particular information to Lt Gen Jacobs by revealing to him that he (Brig Hlungwani) “was the source of the grievance document”.
2.21 “She concedes that she has seen no documentary evidence on what she wrote about me on the basis of information being classified but has seen internal communications on other matters which is quite contradictory because….[the information] is…classified.”
2.22 He accuses Ms Wiener of “writing pure lies against me…”. He says this implies she has a conflict of interests: “She’s just a useful tool and knowing the flush of cash that is in the CI, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are benefits for a journalists who persistently push such a false narrative and injure other people’s names in the name of Press freedom.”
3.1 The article that is the subject of the complaint is part of a comprehensively reported series that tries to unpack the failures and challenges facing policing in the post-Zuma era.
It is helpful to read it in conjunction with the previous story published in December 2018, under the headline “EXCLUSIVE: Standoff in Crime Intelligence: factionalism, racism and ‘untouchables’.”
3.2 In that story, the focus was on the challenges the new head of Crime Intelligence Lt Gen Peter Jacobs was facing in the unit. Among them was the grievance filed against him by Brigadier Hlungwani. Among key relevant points it reported details of the following:
- The criminal trial that Brigadier Hlungwani was involved in as a result of the R50 000 paid into the account of Brigadier Leonora Bamuza-Phetlhe.
- That both Brigadiers Hlungwani and Bamuza-Phetlhe were cleared in an internal disciplinary hearing.
- That both of them, backed by head of legal services Brigadier Dennis Chili, were behind the grievance brought against Lt Gen Jacobs. Among other things they accused Lt Gen Jacobs, described by the reporter as a former MK soldier with a well-documented record of fighting the apartheid government, of being “racist” and “autocratic”. There were several other allegations including that Lt Gen Jacobs had not reported crimes in terms of the Corruption Act.
3.3 In this story, Ms Wiener clearly spoke to all the major role-players, including Brigadier Hlungwani, who would not go on the record. It is also clear she had a copy of the grievance he had filed against Lt Gen Jacobs and reports that he confirmed this “but would not comment further, saying he was not permitted to do so”
3.4 In the story that is the subject of the complaint, most of the statements concerning Brigadier Hlungwani are repeated in a summarized way.
3.5 Ms Wiener’s reporting also reveals detailed and in-depth interviews with several members of the Crime Intelligence Unit which form the basis of her focus that the unit is still beset by infighting but that is beginning to turn around under the leadership of Lt Gen Jacobs – hence her introduction which recounts some anecdotes denoting successful operations against organised crime.
3.6 In relation to the main complaints raised by Brigadier Hlungwani these are:
- The lack of right of reply
- Inaccurate and unfair reporting including misidentification of his position and misspelling of his name
- Material omissions
- Conflict of interests
I will deal with these below:
3.6.1 Right of reply:
184.108.40.206 In the story that is the subject of the complaint, most of the statements concerning Brigadier Hlungwani are repeated in a summarized way.
220.127.116.11 However, she introduces one new claim about Brigadier Hlungwani and that is his involvement in allegedly stalling the procurement of the “grabbers”: “A more recent attempt by Jacobs to procure new grabbers from a different service provider is also believed to have been frozen. Several sources said that this is a result of the Hlungwane (sic) complaint. The chief financial officer has apparently asked Treasury not to approve the funding and the procurement has stalled. As a result, officers on the ground are hobbling along with crippled devices.”
18.104.22.168 She did not put this claim to Brigadier Hlungwani for this article.
22.214.171.124 The court papers the writer refers to involve an application by IPID to the High Court of Gauteng to compel the police to hand over certain documents in relation to the attempt to procure the “grabbers” and other services from a company called Brainwave trading as I-View Integrated Systems that is said to have caused the state to suffer a loss of an estimated R54 million. 
This included R33 million for software aimed at monitoring social media sites during the “Fees Must Fall” protests, purchased outside accepted tender procedures.
It also included the attempt to procure the “grabbers” at a cost of R45 million when according to Robert McBride, then head of IPID, they are available on the market at a cost of R7-10 million.
126.96.36.199 In the papers, the suspicion was raised that the money paid under this procurement was to be “laundered for the buying of votes at the ANC's …national elective conference, held in Johannesburg from 16 to 20 December 2017. The illegality of this procurement process is confirmed by the statements of Brigadier Hlungwane (sic) and Brigadier Chilli.” 
188.8.131.52 The papers include affidavits from Brigadiers Hlungwani and Chili. The latter says he was told by the former that he was being “pressurised” by certain senior police officers (whom he names) to release funds for the purchase of a grabber.. worth an amount of R45 million from I-view. He also said he was worried “because proper processes were not being followed.” He also says that Brigadier Hlungwani had raised concerns “indicating that this purchase of a grabber was in contravention of PFMA.” He (Brig Hlungwani) had also refused an instruction to “go to Nasrec” (presumably when the ANC conference was taking place). The price of the grabber was inflated, a senior investigator in IPID had told Brig Chili, because “part of this money was going to be used to buy votes at the ANC 54th Conference in Nasrec.” 
184.108.40.206 In the end the purchase of the “grabber” did not go ahead. But the court papers put Brigadier Hlungwani’s position in a slightly different light from how he was portrayed in the story, which was at best ambiguous: “The chief financial officer has apparently asked Treasury not to approve the funding and the procurement has stalled.” This was in respect of grabbers at a more reasonable price. It is not clear who the chief financial officer is as there is no other name mentioned in the sentence apart from Brig Hlungwani.
220.127.116.11 It is possible that had the reporter approached Brigadier Hlungwani for comment, he may have explained his position in more detail especially as the court application was launched before the story was published.
18.104.22.168 Her point that she made extensive efforts to get him to go on the record in her previous story is well-taken. However, this was a new and, if the court papers are anything to go by, complex claim that she should have put to him.
Even if he refused again to go on the record, she would have given him an opportunity.
Although it is understandable that the writer may have expected Brig Hlungwani not to comment after her extensive efforts for her first story, it is still necessary to approach him again with this new point which was not raised in the previous story.
22.214.171.124 Previously, the Ombudsman has ruled in SA Post Office vs MyBroadband that even if the subject of critical reportage “never” replies to queries – as was the argument of the reporter in the case of the Post Office
- it is still necessary in terms of the Press Code to approach the subject of reportage for comment. 
3.6.2 Inaccurate and unfair reporting
126.96.36.199 The articles in the series involved extensive reporting work. They are, in my view, an example of a good reporter helping readers to make sense and understand the background of failures, and attempts to turn around a critical public service.
188.8.131.52 Brigadier Hlungwani accuses Ms Wiener of “writing lies” but apart from the above point of his involvement in trying to stall the procurement of “grabbers” (for whatever reason), she spoke to him in detail for her previous article on every other point.
184.108.40.206 There is some confusion though caused by her reference to Brig Hlungwani as “the Chief Financial Officer.” He says he is not the CFO and, as he puts it “she indicated the line was not referring to me”.
220.127.116.11 In correspondence, Ms Wiener told our office that in the December article she had incorrectly referred to Brigadier as the “Chief Financial Officer” and when it was brought to her attention that this was incorrect it was immediately corrected.
In the March article, he is correctly referred to as the “financial section head”. However, there is a reference to the Chief Financial Officer too. It is unclear whom it refers to, as there is no name attached to this. But it comes immediately after a reference to him: “A more recent attempt by Jacobs to procure new grabbers from a different service provider is also believed to have been frozen. Several sources said that this is a result of the Hlungwane (sic) complaint. The chief financial officer has apparently asked Treasury not to approve the funding and the procurement has stalled.”
18.104.22.168 This seems to be a case of poor editing. Nonetheless, the publication should make it clear that this does not refer to him.
22.214.171.124 It is also true that his name is occasionally misspelt as Hlungwane rather than Hlungwani.
3.6.3 Material omissions
126.96.36.199 Brigadier Hlungwani complains that Ms Wiener fails to mention that he and his co-accused were cleared in an internal disciplinary hearing.
But she very clearly does, as this sentence shows: “Recently, while out on bail on the criminal charges, Phethle and Hlungwani were cleared in an internal disciplinary hearing. The officer that chaired the internal hearing criticised police management for their handling of the case against [them] and it was suggested that they were charged because they blew the whistle on corruption related to the unit's slush fund.”
3.6.4 Conflict of interests
188.8.131.52 In his response to the submission by News24, Brigadier Hlungwani makes a claim that Ms Wiener is “just a useful tool and knowing the flush of cash that is in the CI, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are benefits for a journalist who persistently push such false narrative and injure other people’s names in the name of Press freedom.” (sic).
184.108.40.206 This remark is more a reflection of the conflict and tension within CI, rather than on Ms Wiener’s reporting, in my view. There is no substantiation provided for this claim at all, and I could find no evidence of it.
News24 should apologise to Brigadier Hlungwani for occasionally misspelling his name and not making it clear that he is not the Chief Financial Officer. This is a Tier 1 offence, meaning it is a minor error that does not change the thrust of the story.
It should also apologise to Brigadier Hlungwani for not giving him the opportunity to reply on the allegation that he stalled the procurement of new grabbers for the unit. This is a transgression of clause 1.8 of the Press Code. This is a Tier 2 offence
The rest of the complaint is dismissed.
News24 is directed to apologise to Brigadier Hlungwani for not giving him the opportunity to reply on one point in the article.
It may point out in this apology that it approached him for comment on the previous article in this series but that he declined to comment on the record.
It should also correct the spelling of his name, and clarify that he is not the Chief Financial Officer.
The headline should contain the word “apology” and be linked to the online article and end with the sentence, “Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding”;
It should also be published with the logo of the Press Council and be approved by the Ombudsman.
The Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven working days of receipt of this decision, either party may apply for leave to appeal to the Chairperson of the SA Press Appeals Panel, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.
April 30, 2020
  Case 47971/18
 Affidavit by Robert McBride in case 47971/18
 Affidavit by Brigadier DD Chili in case 4791/18