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Just a week after Community Safety MEC Dan Plato criticised the criminal justice system, particularly the police, for the poor conviction rate in gang-related cases, a team of dedicated Manenberg detectives secured seven life sentences as their cases concluded in the Western Cape High Court.
The five-member team, specialising in serious and violent crimes, has been operating from Manenberg police station as a fully-fledged gang unit since 2006 – but with very few resources.
But Constable Wayne Leukes, Sergeant Thembikosi Tyobeka, Detective Constable Jeffrey Witbooi, Warrant Officer Rodney Abrahams and Constable Ayanda Dyusha say their true reward is bringing closure to the families of victims of violent crime.
This week three Manenberg gang members were sentenced to life behind bars for murdering the owner of Dickeys Meat Market, Abdullah Daware, in Surrey Estate in March last year. They are Yusuf Cupido, Manfred Links and Johan Maggot.
In the other case, two Manenberg gang members were handed two double life sentences each for the murders of Cameron Philander and his friend Liezel Saunders, who they shot in July 2010 while the couple were sitting in their car in Ascension Road, Heideveld. The two are Virgil Adendorf, 31, and Clint de Haan, 29.
Leukes, 33, who was the investigating officer in the Heideveld double murders, said the team worked day and night to secure the arrests.
“You can have a strong case, but witnesses play a major role in getting any conviction. We did interviews in the community, but not everyone is eager to give affidavits or take the stand.”
He said people in gang-ridden areas were afraid to talk, or be seen talking to police. “The gangs are still dominating people, and any potential witness is fearful that they or their families will be marked.”
According to Leukes and Tyobeka, the team faced many obstacles and setbacks, including seeing their main witnesses walk out of witness protection, then refusing to go back to court. Some of the accused were also acquitted of the murder charge.
“We lost hope when three of the suspects were acquitted. The families were looking to us for answers and we could do very little to offer comfort,” Leukes said. Now he’s happy the family have closure: “We had a 50-50 chance of getting good sentences, but instead we were rewarded with double life imprisonment. For mere constables, this is a great achievement.”
Tyobeka, the investigating officer in the Daware murder, said that while the case seemed easy at the start – the entire incident was caught on tape – it ended up being quite a challenge.
“We did not know who the attackers were, even though they were on the video footage. We had to work around the clock to identity them.”
He echoed Leukes’s sentiments about the difficulty in getting people to speak to the police about gangs.
“Luckily we managed to identify one person the very day after the murder.”
He said the team started probing the suspect’s history, and found that he was an awaiting trial prisoner at Pollsmoor Prison, who had been released the same day the crime was committed.
“We had to follow up on who bailed him out, and in doing so managed to get the killers,” Tyobeka said.
Witbooi, who assisted in both investigations, said the team made many sacrifices, including neglecting family time.
“The moment we have a lead or a breakthrough in any of our cases, we can’t let go, and will work around the clock to make an arrest.
Getting people to testify is the most difficult part of the job, but once they see we’re dedicated to clamping down on the gangs, they are willing to meet us halfway.”
Lieutenant Colonel Roslyn Johnson, head of the Manenberg police station, said her team was successful because they were close to the community, and well known for their hard work.
“Taking these men out of the communities they serve would be like taking a crucial service away. People know if these men are on the case, arrests will be made,” she said.
Provincial commissioner Lieutenant General Arno Lamoer and his management team praised the young detectives. “These men have done their jobs well.”