This week Special Assignment looks at South Africa’s highly covert Witness Protection Programme; designed to protect witnesses whose lives may be at risk because the evidence they supply in court can lead to the convictions of dangerous criminals. David Bruce, an independent researcher in policing, crime and criminal justice, says that witnesses are particularly at risk in organised crime and gang-related crime cases. According to Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, John Jeffery, the programme is ranked in the top five in the world. The level of protection provided by the Office of Witness Protection (OWP) varies according to the level of threat a witness may face.

The high-profile attempted murder, drug and kidnapping trial of Czech Republic fugitive, Radovan Krejcir, has brought the South African witness protection programme into the spotlight. On the 23rd of February 2016, Krejcir was sentenced to an effective 35 years in prison. He was convicted, with five other accused, including three police officers. The charges were in connection with the kidnapping and torture of Bheki Lukhele, whose brother allegedly disappeared with 25 kilograms of tik belonging to Krejcir. Krejcir is due to face further charges of attempted murder for plotting to kill controversial forensic consultant Paul O’Sullivan and a lead police investigator in his case, Colonel Nkosana Ximba.

One of the key witnesses in these charges is “Jacob Nare” who was allegedly close to one of Krejcir’s hitmen, Siboniso Miya. Special Assignment obtained an exclusive interview with Nare who is currently in hiding. He says he was offered witness protection but refused it as he believed information about Bheki Lukhele’s whereabouts while on the programme, was leaked to Krejcir’s men. According to him, this includes “…drawings of the area where he is located and all those kinds of street names and everything… that witness was supposed to be killed.” Nare believes somebody within the witness protection programme leaked the information. He is currently being protected by contoversial forensic consultant Paul O’Sullivan after the two alleged that the police relinquished responsibility for his safety.

In another matter, another witness, Pastor “Isaac Baard,” who testified in a gang related murder trial in 2012 says that testifying destroyed his life as he had to flee his home and job in order to protect himself and his family. He alleges that the OWP would not replace his salary after relocation and that the state prosecutor and a government official from the Eastern Cape Department of Safety and Liaison mislead him in order to convince him to testify. The state denies these allegations.

Watch “Bare Witness” produced by Richelle Seton-Rogers on Special Assignment this Sunday 20h30 on SABC 3.