Robert McBride to testify at Zondo inquiry about Hawks 'death squad'
'Hawks guards' said to be Russian-trained
Sensational new claims about a mysterious Russian-trained police death squad that may have been involved in political assassinations, break-ins and harassment during the Zuma presidency are set to rock the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture.
Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) head Robert McBride is set to tell the commission he is investigating the whereabouts and activities of the squad, which was trained in "offensive warfare". This included sniper training, the use of rocket launchers and ambushes.
McBride met commission members on Friday to discuss what evidence he could present on the role of the police in aiding and covering up state capture. He said information on the foreign training of the covert squad is in classified police documents which deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo can subpoena.
McBride told the Sunday Times that in late 2016, 16 men were hired on the pretext of guarding offices of the Hawks, but were sent for specialist training to Russia. Weapons training might also have been conducted in China, he said.
The Russian embassy in SA confirmed that its government offers "professional development and advanced training" to the South African Police Service. But embassy spokesperson Alexander Kulyaev denied this was "tactical warfare" training.
"The training courses are focused on methods of police investigative work. No 'tactical warfare', just man management, ballistic examination and assessment, fingerprint analysis, counterterrorism negotiations, profiling, international interaction on tackling economic crime, information and communication security, peacekeeping operations, training for women, et cetera," said Kulyaev.
It is not clear whether this is the programme the Hawks "security guards" went on.
McBride said he was trying to track the 16 people in the police system as they had effectively become "ghosts".
The Hawks 'security guards' were trained to kill people. This looks like a rerun of the Caprivi trainingRobert McBride
"They were trained to kill people. This looks like a rerun of the Caprivi training." In the late 1980s, Inkatha members received paramilitary training in the Caprivi Strip leading to the creation of hit squads that perpetrated violence in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
McBride said thousands responded to the advertisements for the security guard jobs but none were interviewed.
"A group of 20 who did not apply were shortlisted. They were obviously pre-prepared somewhere. The group came down to 16 who were then sent for offensive training."
Ten were from northern KwaZulu-Natal. "I am worried about the political murders in KwaZulu-Natal and whether they had any role," said McBride.
There is suspicion the group could be linked to other stealth operations, such as break-ins at facilities, including the offices of the chief justice last year, and surveillance and harassment of people who resisted state capture.
Hawks spokesperson Brig Hangwani Mulaudzi said: "The [Hawks] can confirm that certain personnel who were intended to be security guards were hired following adverts. The hired personnel were transferred to crime intelligence. They are no longer on the strength of the [Hawks]."
Crime intelligence spokesperson Brig Vish Naidoo said he could not comment on matters under investigation by Ipid.
The Hawks, under former head Berning Ntlemeza, are emerging as a key player as the commission unfolds. Former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas, former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor and former government spokesperson Themba Maseko have told the inquiry about attempts by senior Hawks officials to sabotage investigations or intimidate them.
The Sunday Times has learnt that Ipid has taken over the docket on Hawks anticorruption head Maj-Gen Zinhle Mnonopi, who was suspended after Jonas's evidence. Jonas testified that Mnonopi tried to get him to sign a false statement to "kill the case" relating to an alleged attempt by Ajay Gupta to offer Jonas the position of finance minister.
McBride said Ipid was pursuing an alleged "dirty tricks" campaign by the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to kill the state capture cases and pursue those who were opposing the Guptas.
He said the Jonas matter could be a "model case" as Jonas said in his testimony Mnonopi had told him the draft statement had been "settled" by a prosecutor.
"We want to know who that person in the NPA is."
In 2016, the Hawks investigated Pravin Gordhan, then finance minister, about a South African Revenue Service "rogue unit".
McBride himself and two of his Ipid colleagues were charged by the Hawks in 2016 with fraud and defeating the ends of justice. This related to their investigation of former Hawks head Anwa Dramat, accused of the illegal rendition of Zimbabweans in 2010.
The charges against McBride were withdrawn. This week the NPA withdrew the rendition charges against Dramat.
Contacted for comment, Ntlemeza said this was "a sensitive issue". He added: "I cannot answer about issues of security."