Murder cases linked to ‘hit squad’

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IOL pics death squad 1 The Mercury Officers of the disbanded Cato Manor Organised Crime Unit wait to be arrested at their offices on Tuesday night. While an officer is seen to be pacing the passage, amother seems to be sleeping on the floor while others site on the benches.

The Durban organised crime unit in Cato Manor is under scrutiny for at least four cases.

* In September last year, the unit was in hot water after the death of Qinisani Gwala who was alleged to have been shot while in police custody.

Police said Gwala, 36, the ANC branch chairman in Mabuyeni Reserve, Eskhawini, in Empangeni, was killed during a shoot-out with police officers. Gwala had been arrested by the unit in connection with the murder of Eshowe police captain Kevin Marallich.

After his arrest, Gwala had asked the officers if he could fetch his identity document from his home at the reserve.

Police said Gwala drew a .38 Special revolver and opened fire on police officers. The police returned fire and Gwala was killed.

His family questioned how Gwala fired a gun when his hands were tied.

Another man suspected of involvement in Marallich’s murder was killed in a shootout with Durban organised crime unit officers in August, 2010.

* In July last year, the unit was involved in the killing of a Durban taxi boss, socialite and alleged armed robber, Sibusiso “Boyzie” Mkhize, while he hid in a dustbin.

Mourners, friends and relatives disputed the police version of the circumstances of his death, claiming Mkhize and his friend Dumi Mgobhozi were attacked and shot by the police at home – and not after a foiled armed robbery and chase, as reported by police.

Police reportedly said the unit received an anonymous tip-off that Mkhize and his two accomplices, Mgobhozi and Jabulani Bhengu, had planned to rob a businessman who had withdrawn a large amount of money from a bank in the Gateway mall.

The trio were spotted in a gold Hyundai and a chase to Phoenix followed.

After abandoning their vehicle, they hijacked a doctor’s Mercedes-Benz and drove towards Somerset Park. The men drove into Midsomer Crescent, where two were shot dead.

Mkhize fled and tried to hide in a bin. He shot at police but was killed when police returned fire.

Mkhize’s brother accused police of being trigger-happy, claiming that Mkhize was attacked at his home, unarmed, while relaxing with his two sons, aged 16 and 11.

* The unit was also responsible for the death of Empangeni teenager Kwazi Ndlovu in March 2010. Kwazi, 16, was shot and killed at his home in Esikhawini, near Empangeni, on March 31 last year. He was apparently asleep in the living room when organised crime unit officers stormed into the house searching for an escaped prisoner. Shots were fired and Kwazi was killed. His parents, asleep in their bedroom, were then forced out of the house by police.

The police had been searching for Sibusiso Thili Mzimela, one of six prisoners who had escaped from Westville Prison. The police went to Ndlovu’s home because they had been told Mzimela once lived there.

The police claimed that the teenager had fired shots at them. But Kwazi’s father, Sibusiso Ndlovu, said his son did not have a gun.

* The most shocking case involving the unit followed the deaths of Bongani Biyela, 41, and Khanyisani Buthelezi, 18, in a rural village near Melmoth, Zululand, in November 2008.

A police statement described Biyela’s death as a success, stating that the two were cash-in-transit heist suspects and had been shot in self-defence after they came out of their room “guns blazing”.

However, relatives who were present said that Biyela and Buthelezi had been “executed” by the policemen – who then celebrated afterwards.

A Sunday newspaper exposed how the unit operated as an alleged hit squad, with witnesses claiming they “executed” suspects and then held booze-fuelled parties, which sparked an Independent Complaints Directorate probe into 51 suspicious deaths – including those of Biyela and Buthelezi. - The Mercury


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