Even though he was shafted four years ago, new Hawks head Godfrey Lebeya remained loyal to his calling. This week his loyalty was rewarded with his elevation to head the Hawks.
It’s been a dramatic comeback for Lebeya (56) who, four years ago, left the SA Police Service (SAPS) with his fellow deputy national police commissioner Leah Mofomme after a fallout with then national commissioner Riah Phiyega, who removed him from his post to start a research unit. Lebeya’s friends in the force always maintained this was a demotion and a move to sideline a deputy who might have threatened her authority.
This week the stars aligned to give Lebeya his rightful place in the policing pantheon, in a tale that involves his immediate Hawks’ predecessor, Mthandazo Ntlemeza, and the police’s former head of crime intelligence, Richard Mdluli, who finally left this year after seven years on suspension.
Lebeya, who applied for senior police positions many times and was consistently overlooked, declined interviews this week, saying he would wait for Police Minister Bheki Cele first to make a formal announcement and introduction.
But to many Lebeya needs no introduction.
I first met him in 2012 when he was testifying at the inquest into the death of Oupa Ramogibe, the husband of the former lover of then suspended crime intelligence head Mdluli.
At the time he testified, he was the deputy national commissioner responsible for detectives and forensics. He told the Boksburg Magistrates’ Court that information he received from sources had led to the reinvestigation of the murder case. He also testified that during his investigation, both of the murder dockets – an original and a duplicate – had gone missing. He later discovered that the same case was being investigated by Ntlemeza, who had worked with Mdluli in the detectives’ section of the Vosloorus police station.
Lebeya, tall and well-built, took enormous exception to being labelled an Mdluli ally in the media. He would call for advice about who to complain to about inaccurate reports. Later, as deputy national commissioner under Phiyega, he would let slip that he had applied for every senior law enforcement position without success and he was becoming increasingly frustrated. A religious man and an admitted advocate, he took his job seriously.
Lebeya’s friends inside and outside the SAPS describe him as a devoted family man, “not the kind of guy you’ll find at the pub”, said one. He eats at home. He doesn’t have friends. His life is work and policing. He’s incorruptible.”
Lebeya was born in Hlabeleng village, in Bolobedu, Limpopo, and began his police career in 1984. He swiftly became a detective. His 20-page CV lists a litany of roles: from a detective investigating housebreaking in Hillbrow and a stint in the fraud section in Sandton, to his placement in the commercial crimes division in Johannesburg, Mpumalanga and Gauteng’s head office.
But it was arguably in the organised crime section, which he headed in the Jackie Selebi years, that he found his calling. His master’s thesis research project was on vehicle theft syndicates in the Southern African Development Community region and his PhD was also on organised crime.
He put that theory into action.
“Lebeya really distinguished himself as the head of the organised crime unit. Under him, hijacking and cash-in-transit syndicates were smashed,” said a long-time colleague. “Well known cash-in-transit kingpins like Jimmy Bilankulu and Dick Ngobeni are still in jail today because of him.”
It was May 31 2016 when Lebeya finally reached a settlement with the SAPS after a lengthy battle in the Labour Court. By then he had already clocked up 32 years as a policeman.
He posted on Facebook at the time: “I have been and passed the levels of student constable, constable, detective constable, detective sergeant, detective warrant officer, lieutenant, captain, superintendent, senior superintendent, director, assistant commissioner, divisional commissioner, lieutenant-general, deputy national commissioner and acting national commissioner.
“I have been the best student at the SAP Training College, best candidate at detective course, best candidate at fraud course. The standard of performance of the DPCI [Hawks] during my term remains a measuring stick. I was leading the pack in seniority within the SAPS when I was retired. I hold a gold medal in policing. SAPS remains my family.”
Now a large chunk of the settlement he received, described as “substantial” by one friend, will have to be repaid to the state for Lebeya to re-enter the public service. The amount he has to repay could be as high as 60%, said another, which is an indication of the personal sacrifice he is prepared to make for the job.
Lebeya will report administratively to Cele, with whom he got along well while the latter was national police commissioner. However, operationally, he will report to national police commissioner General Khehla Sitole. Police colleagues wonder how Sitole, who has a matric certificate, will feel about having the country’s most qualified police officer reporting to him.
Lebeya unsuccessfully applied for the national police commissioner’s position, which Sitole was given. But this week, after beating big names like Independent Police Investigative Directorate head Robert McBride, former Gauteng Hawks head Shadrack Sibiya and acting Hawks head Yolisa Matakata to the big job, the gods in the police pantheon finally smiled down on him.