By Alex Bell
SW Radio Africa
21 May 2014
At least 16 Zimbabwean citizens, identified in a recently completed investigation into illegal renditions, are believed to represent the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of victims of the practice.
Several senior officials in South Africa’s Hawks priority crime unit and the local police were in 2011 accused of conducting the renditions, in partnership with Zimbabwean police. This has reportedly led to a number of Zimbabwean ‘suspects’ being arrested in South Africa and then sent across the border illegally, and killed.
At least 16 people are said to have disappeared and, according to human rights groups, four of those disappeared were murdered by Zimbabwean police. Among those who disappeared from South Africa are: Gift Nhidza, a former MDC party organiser, his wife who was allegedly tortured by Zimbabwean police seeking information on her husband’s whereabouts and Witness Ndeya.
The Sunday Times newspaper reported in 2011 that it had evidence that Ndeya, who was suspected of shooting a policeman in his country, was “renditioned” by the Hawks and then murdered, apparently by Zimbabwean police. Ndeya was arrested, along with his nephew and two friends, for being “illegal immigrants” in November 2010. In a sworn statement by one of the four, Shepard Tshuma, they were all taken to the Beitbridge border by South African police and handed over to Zimbabwean officials who “told us that we are under arrest for the murder of police officers.”
Tshuma and Ndeya were detained at a Bulawayo police station before the former was released a week later. Tshuma said that a few days later the Zimbabwean police told the family “that Witness Ndeya was killed by other police officers.” Ndeya’s death certificate reportedly confirmed he died at Hippo Valley Farm in Bulawayo, with the cause of death listed as “multiple gunshot wounds.”
The newspaper also accused police minister Nathi Mthetwa of ‘sitting’ on reports detailing the renditions, but the minister dismissed the accusations. Justice minister Jeff Radebe then called for a probe in late 2011.
An investigation was finally launched by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate in 2012, and two years later a report containing ‘recommendations’ has been handed to the National Prosecuting Authority. No more details have been released.
According South Africa’s The Times newspaper at least eight members of the Hawks’ tactical operational management services in Pretoria and Johannesburg are suspected of being responsible for the renditions. The eight are alleged to have been operating on orders from high-ranking officers, in collaboration with officials from Zimbabwe’s CIO.
A senior South African police official told The Times that although there was strong evidence against those implicated it was doubtful that they would be prosecuted.
“These guys are untouchable … they do as they want when they want. This will not lead to their prosecution, even though it should,” he said.
Hawks Lieutenant General Anwa Dramat and six others in the crime-fighting unit, including Gauteng Hawks boss Major-General Shadrack Sibiya and the Hawks’s Colonel Leslie ‘Cowboy’ Maluleke, were previously implicated in the illegal practice. But an internal investigation headed by Dramat cleared Sibiya, Maluleke and other Hawks officials of any wrongdoing.
Meanwhile Gabriel Shumba, the head of the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum, has said the Zimbabwean victims identified so far are likely “the tip of the iceberg.” He said they “greatly anticipate” the report.
“It is unfortunate and disappointing that the investigation has taken so long, especially considering that it is a case that involves serious crimes of international law. If it takes too long, it gives the impression that people can act with impunity,” Shumba said.