Source: News 24

Sipho Masondo and Azarrah Karrim

Khehla Sitole.

Khehla Sitole.

Melinda Stuurman

  • The police are investigating a case of treason against high-profile politicians suspected of masterminding last July’s violence.
  • Senior ANC politicians, Cabinet ministers, high-profile businessmen, cops, and spies are suspected of fomenting the July unrest.
  • While the police investigation drags, the families of the people who lost their lives are beginning to lose hope that justice will ever be served.

Eight months after launching a treason investigation following the violent unrest in July last year, the police are yet to arrest anyone. 

News24 can, for the first time, reveal that following last July’s rampage, the police are seeking to bring treason charges against several high-ranking ANC politicians and businesspeople identified as masterminds. 

A senior police officer close to the investigation said those implicated include a prominent former mayor of a Gauteng metro, Cabinet ministers, former premiers, Crime Intelligence agents, State Security Agency operatives, and members of the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA).

READ | Police, intelligence failed to stop July unrest – but executive also to blame, report finds

The officer said the police could link several people, which the State hopes to charge with treason, to specific meetings in locations known to the police through cellphone trilateration – a sophisticated and advanced method of determining the exact location of mobile phones and cars fitted with tracking devices. 

The senior police officer added:

We have made a lot of progress, and the takedown is no longer far away. Although the investigation was targeting certain people, we had to cast the net wider to make sure we don’t miss any implicated party.

While the police investigation drags on, the family of 15-year-old Puleng Shabangu, who perished during the riots, has lost hope of ever seeing justice for her. 

Her family claims it has been met with silence from the authorities and political leadership.

In July last year, protests, sparked by the incarceration of former president Jacob Zuma, quickly escalated into an orgy of violence and looting. 

Hundreds of thousands of people in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal blockaded highways, torched trucks, malls, and major distribution warehouses. 

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About 340 people lost their lives in the wake of the deadliest protests under the democratic dispensation. The losses suffered by businesses are estimated to top R50 billion.

Shabangu, who suffered an asthma attack when police fired tear gas into a looting crowd, was crushed in a stampede at Ndofaya Mall in Meadowlands, Soweto, on 12 July last year, as scores of people tried to flee from the police.

According to her aunt, Kedibone Shabangu, who spoke to News24 last Wednesday, she fell to the ground while calling her mother and aunt for help.

Probe located in top cop’s office

Another Justice Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) cluster functionary said that, because of the investigation’s sensitive nature, a decision had been taken to locate it in the office of outgoing police commissioner Khehla Sitole. 

“Only a select few top detectives are part of the investigation. Sitole gives President Cyril Ramaphosa regular updates on the progress of the investigation. Because of the sensitivity of the case and the names of the people under investigation, the team feels that it cannot proceed without support from the highest office in the country, lest they be fed to the wolves,” the source said.

They said Sitole would not hand over the treason investigation, or any other probe, to Police Minister Bheki Cele when he left office at the end of the month, as per the minister’s request. 

This comes after Cele last week wrote to Sitole asking him to prepare a closeout report, among others, detailing all major police investigations. 

READ | Bheki Cele instructs outgoing top cop Khehla Sitole to reveal ‘high-profile’ cases

A week ago, News24 reported that Cele had also requested Sitole not to make big decisions affecting the police service.

“Sitole will not hand over any closeout report to Cele. The law does not allow the minister to get involved in the administration. Ideally, Sitole should hand over the closeout report to the person who will succeed him. In the absence of that person, Sitole will hand over the closeout report to the president, who is his boss.” 

Sitole, the source said, has already forwarded Cele’s letter to the president. The source said that if the president wanted to give him the closeout report, he would do so himself. 

Sitole declined to comment.

Cele and Sitole have a frosty relationship and have been at each other’s throats since 2018. 

The animosity between the two spilled into the public last year when they appeared before the South African Human Rights Commission’s hearing into the July unrest. 

They both laid the blame for the turmoil on each other’s doors.

A confidential matter

Cele declined to comment about the letter and his interests in major police investigations currently under way.

His spokesperson Lirandzu Temba said, “the minister’s response to this matter has not changed; which is that any correspondence between the national commissioner and himself is confidential. If anything changes, you’ll be informed”.

Acting police spokesperson Colonel Athlenda Mathe also declined to comment about the treason investigation. 

Kedibone lost her 15-year-old niece, Puleng, in th

Kedibone lost her 15-year-old niece, Puleng, in the violence.


“The national investigative hearing into the July unrests are yet to be concluded; it is for this reason that the SAPS will not engage in any matter relating to the July unrests.”

Advocate Mthunzi Mhaga, a special advisor to advocate Shamila Batohi, head of the National Prosecuting Authority, said prosecutors had been working with the Hawks, police detectives, and Crime Intelligence agents to prosecute people suspected of instigating the July riots. 

“The NPA, as with all matters, engaged with law enforcement stakeholders to wit the DPCI, Detectives, and Crime Intelligence. Dedicated prosecutors from the Organised Crime Divisions in the KZN and GP DPP offices were allocated to deal with the matters. The prosecutors guided investigations and got the cases that were brought to the court ready.”

Justice denied

While leadership are at loggerheads, the Shabangu family say authorities and political leadership have made no further contact after initially promising compensation for Puleng’s death.

Puleng Shabangu died in the July riots last year after inhaling tear gas and suffering an asthma attack.

“Even to this day, nothing was done. No police came by to say sorry or send their condolences or anything,” Shabangu said. 

She added: 

Seeing her lying there, if you could see the video, it is very traumatic… In the video, you could see that she tried to open her mouth [to breathe]… You could see that someone stepped on her because her neck was shifted to the side.

Shabangu told News24 she was not aware of any investigation being conducted into her niece’s death, adding she has lost faith in the government, vowing to never vote again after the silence her community was met with after the riots. 

“When they need our vote, we go vote, but when we have problems, they are not there,” he said.

“You wouldn’t want your vote to go to waste. I am not voting for you to have a nice life. I am voting for you so that my family and I can benefit. By voting for you, I trusted that you would take care of us.” 

With the slow pace of investigations into the riots, which Shabangu said had left a deep scar in the community and was still talked about today, Shabangu said the conduct of those elected to power has soiled the president’s image.  

“That’s why we no longer take our president seriously because people elected under him have ruined his image. He might be a good person, but everyone else [is not]. If they are soiling his image, I will take it that my president is like that too,” she said.