Contentious cassette tape recording in spotlight in ex-Mandela cop case

Journalist got hands on tape 16 years ago

Contentious cassette tape recording in spotlight in ex-Mandela cop case

20 April 2017

Cape Town - An old tape recording has become the focus of the mammoth trial involving the policeman previously hand-picked by former president Nelson Mandela to head an elite investigative unit.

"I really had to climb under the floorboards to get that tape," a witness, Zenzile Khoisan - a journalist of roughly three decades - testified on Thursday.

He was describing the challenge it had been to get his hands on the cassette tape, which he got hold of 16 years ago.

Khoisan previously testified about the recording of a conversation between two police officers during which one allegedly threatened to "bring down" the African National Congress government.

After receiving it, he had gone on to write an article on it.

The recording was apparently an exchange between former presidential unit investigator Abraham Smith and the robbery and murder unit head Leonard Knipe.

Criminal allegations

Lincoln has since accused the two of working against him to tarnish his name because of his investigations into senior police officers.

Khoisan has been testifying in support of Lincoln.

Lincoln is claiming R15m in damages from the minister of safety and security (now the minister of police) for what he has termed being maliciously prosecuted.

In 1996, Mandela tasked Lincoln with heading up a presidential investigative task unit to probe Cape Town-based Italian Mafioso Vito Palazzolo and his links to government officials, police and businessman.

But criminal allegations against Lincoln and others in the unit then surfaced, leading to Lincoln's arrest.

He believes he was "maliciously prosecuted" because of his direct access to Mandela and investigations into senior policemen.

Under cross-examination on Thursday, Khoisan was asked whether he had made a transcript of the tape.

"Invariably I would have had my notes with me… Given the passage of time I don't have those notes," he said.

"I'm reasonably certain I would have a transcript of that section of the tape I was intending to use for publication."

It was put to Khoisan that Smith had said they had never met in person.

Khoisan responded that he was "not associated" with Smith.

Advocate Craig Webster, for the minister, also put it to Khoisan that Knipe denied saying anything about toppling the government and that there was no reference in the article that the tape was verified by Smith.

However, Khoisan said he had thoroughly reported what was heard on the tape.

Webster also put it to Khoisan that Knipe had gone on to receive an award for "outstanding services rendered" by the then-safety and security minister.

The case is set to resume on Monday when Webster launches an application for absolution.