Mandy Wiener29 February 2024 | 4:23

MANDY WIENER: AKA arrests came after solid investigation by police eager for redemption

The police crucially followed a prosecutor-led investigating model reminiscent of the Scorpions’ highly successful ‘troika’ approach.

MANDY WIENER: AKA arrests came after solid investigation by police eager for redemption

FILE: Multiple South African Music Award Nominee AKA on the red carpet. Picture: Eyewitness News

Targeted assassinations, or contract killings, are big business in South Africa. 

It is estimated that in 2022 there were 141 assassinations in the country. In 2021, there were 145, according to research by the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime (GITOC) in its report The Business of Killing. Political assassinations increased by an alarming 33% from 2021 to 2022.

It is a terrifying reality. Unfortunately, it is also incredibly difficult for police to crack these often-complex cases as they are dealing with multiple layers of individuals and professional inkabis who are slippery and well connected and protected. 

According to a study into contract killings in South Africa, Mozambique and Kenya by the GITOC, police face enormous challenges in cracking these crimes. 

“Both news reports and field research in the three countries revealed that police investigators were frequently either intimidated into not investigating cases or bribed to sideline cases or lose key evidence. The investigation of organised crime is an extremely dangerous job for investigators, and they need to be adequately supported and protected by the state. 

As most cases do not make it through the criminal justice system, it means that hitmen, and those who contract them, remain unpunished and are further able to use violent means to advance their interests. The high levels of impunity around targeted killings are one of the key reasons why they are seen as a viable option to ‘solve a problem’, reads the report. 

The fact that the SAPS have been able to make seven arrests in the 2023 shooting of rapper Kiernan Forbes, also known as AKA, and his friend Tebello Motsoane, is applaudable. 

Police investigators have been quietly working to solve this case and this week the KZN provincial commissioner Lieutenant General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi set out in detail how the case had been constructed and provided detailed information about the process. 

Crucially, police followed a prosecutor-led investigating model reminiscent of the Scorpions’ highly successful ‘troika’ approach. 

As policing expert and criminologist Dr Guy Lamb described to me on The Midday Report this week, it ‘has the hallmarks of quite a solid case’. 

“I think the police and the criminal justice system have learnt the lessons of other high-profile cases that have gone awry such as the Senzo Meyiwa case. The focus here is on securing convictions. There was a lot of criticism of the police and the Hawks and the NPA in relation to this case because it was taking such a long time and now, we have some feedback from there which really justifies and motivates why it was taking such a long time. There’s a sense of having quite a rational, painstaking, logical strategy,” said Dr Lamb. 

Mkhwanazi explained that the police identified the suspects and then charged them on “parallel” charges to keep them behind bars whilst they built the AKA case. 

The SAPS have had far too many opportunities to learn how to investigate and prosecute these complex cases of contract killings. There have been spectacularly high-profile failures such as in the case of the honeymoon murder accused Shrien Dewani and the murder of Pretoria mother Chanelle Henning. 

In both instances – Nico Henning and Shrien Dewani – the state failed in court to prove that they had ordered the hits on their respective wives. However, the so-called button men or shooters were held to account. To balance the view though, Christopher Panyiotou is currently serving a life sentence for being behind the kidnap and murder of his wife Jayde.  

The police and prosecutors must manage the balance of getting those lower in the hierarchy to fall like dominoes and testify against those who ordered the hit. However, there are often too many layers of intermediaries to allow for the shooters to directly incriminate the person at the very top. 

The case against those responsible for senior Gauteng health official and whistleblower Babitha Deokaran is evidence of this. The cops may have those who carried out the murder behind bars but that is simply nowhere near enough. The professional assassins are one thing but the person who ordered the hit is something completely different. There are still no breakthroughs in the assassination of liquidator Cloete Murray and his son last year. 

The Senzo Meyiwa case has been the most high-profile example of the difficulties facing police and prosecuting teams. The matter has been shrouded in conspiracy and speculation with parallel cases being investigated and allegations of police brutality, intimidation, and cover-ups. 

In the matter of AKA’s death, there is considerable public pressure too and the police have been under scrutiny. It is commendable that they have been able to make progress and keep developments on track without allowing media leaks to compromise the case (aside from reports in Eswatini newspapers at the weekend). 

Police leadership is confident that this is a watertight docket and that it will survive the rough and tumble of a protracted criminal trial. There will be great expectations of convictions. But there will also be anticipation that all of those in the hierarchy are being held to account. 

SAPS spokesperson Brigadier Athlenda Mathe told me that they are satisfied that all those involved in the murder of AKA have been arrested but “if there is a person who ordered the hit and gave the coordinator the instructions, we are hoping that the trial will unravel that”. 

“We do know that we have the right people, and those people will be made to answer for the crime that they have committed. We hope that the trial will tell us more and more information will come to light about the motive,” said Brigadier Mathe. 

There is a lot at stake in this case for the SAPS and the NPA and what transpires in the court of law will have a massive impact on how the handling of contract killing matters is perceived in the court of public opinion.