Twenty members of Durban’s organised crime unit who were arrested this week were heroes and not hardened criminals, said members of the public at the Durban Magistrate’s Court in a show of support for them on Thursday.
People carried posters with slogans saying “Durban organised crime unit: our heroes”, while the city’s tow-truck drivers parked their vehicles, branded with messages of support, outside the court.
Expelled police commissioner Bheki Cele was applauded by the crowd when he arrived in court to support the men. “Our general!” and “Our hero!” supporters of the accused policemen called out.
Cele was known for encouraging police officers to “shoot to kill” in their fight against crime. He declined to be interviewed, but promised a media statement.
The arrested police officers appeared in Y-courtroom on the 12th floor.
Their supporters, who started arriving at the court from 7am, crowded the courtroom, spilling into the corridor outside. Neighbouring courtrooms were disrupted by the noisy crowd.
The supporters, who claimed to be ordinary people and business people affected by crime, said they were impressed with the way the unit had dealt with crime suspects.
“These people are very strong in fighting crime. They always make sure that criminals are convicted and sentenced,” said supporter Ronnie Degee.
Penny Katz was among those wearing black T-shirts with the words “I support Durban Serious Violent Crime Unit” across them.
She also set up a Facebook page to drum up support for the accused.
“I believe in them. They are hard-working guys passionate about fighting criminals. Even if they get convicted, I support them 150 percent,” said Katz.
Other supporters said the accused would not kill innocent people.
“If they killed, they only killed the guilty ones. Their victims were convicted and sentenced before, but came back to commit other crimes. These heroes dealt harshly with those responsible for rapes, taxi violence, murders and cash-in-transit heists. It takes violence to fight violence,” said another supporter, who introduced himself as OJ.
Peter Booysen, a city jeweller, said he supported the unit because it had helped him several times when he had been a victim of crime.
“About two years ago, they recovered R2 million of jewellery stolen from my shop during an armed robbery. A year ago, my manager was kidnapped and these guys (accused officers) got him back,” said Booysen.
However, there were also a few people who supported the arrests. They included taxi owners such as Jabulani Mazibuko of the Top Six taxi association, who said the officers had contributed to taxi violence in the province. - The Mercury