Charges against two officers arrested in connection with alleged hit squad activities by the Durban Organised Crime Unit based at Cato Manor were withdrawn on Thursday.
National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga confirmed charges against the two had been withdrawn, but “that there were still ongoing investigations”.
Asked whether Dumisani Nzama and Sivuyile Ngodwa had turned State witness, he said: “I will not comment on that.”
The two were part of the National Intervention Unit and not the Durban Organised Crime Unit, but were among the 20 people arrested on Wednesday in a joint operation involving the Hawks.
They had been expected to appear in court on Thursday. However, only 18 men appeared in the Durban Regional Court on Thursday.
They face 14 charges of murder, 14 of unlawful possession of ammunition, 14 of unlawful possession of firearms, and four of house breaking.
One of them, Captain Neville Eva, told the court he intended pleading not guilty to all the charges.
Also on the provisional indictment are 14 counts of defeating the ends of justice, and 14 of unlawful possession of weapons and ammunition.
The court was packed for the bail hearings of the 20, who stand accused of being part of a hit squad. Eva said when the Sunday Times published an expose alleging the existence of the hit squad, all members of the unit promised the then Independent Complaints Directorate (it has since been renamed the Independent Police Investigative Directorate) they would co-operate with the investigation.
“Our attitude was to assist the investigation in any way possible.”
Eva said the members were ordered to hand in their weapons, laptops and cellphones earlier this year. They were also instructed not to take on any new cases, but to continue with pending cases.
Eva, a veteran of 27 years, said if they had intended to tamper with evidence, they had had six months to do so.
However, Colonel Frans Khola, who is part of the Hawks team investigating the allegations against the 18, said he did not believe the directorate and Hawks team had received the officers' co-operation.
“At some stage I made (sic) to speak to one of the accused. He said he wanted to exercise his right (to silence).”
He said in some cases some of those that had been killed were not even suspects in the crimes the officers were investigating.
He cited an incident where the officers allegedly shot dead a 16-year-old boy as they burst into his home in search of an escapee. Khola said many of the witnesses to the shootings were afraid, and in another case an entire homestead in Melmoth lived in fear. Some of those people had received calls threatening them if they talked to the police.
People supporting the men stood outside the court building with placards.
Former national police commissioner Bheki Cele received rousing applause when he entered the public gallery. There was a heavy police presence inside and outside the building.
People had to stand outside the court in the hallway, because there was insufficient space for supporters and families of the accused. Magistrate Sharon Marks threatened to have the people removed if they did not keep quiet.
The 18 men who appeared in court on Thursday are: Gonasagern Padayachee, 44, Adriaan Stolz, 51, Paul Mostert, 51, Eric Nel, 41, Captain Nevile Eva, 45, Adjithsingh Ghaness, 41, Phumelela Makhanya, 45, Willem Ollivier, 59, Peter George, 51, Thembinkosi Mkhwanazi, 47, Mhlabunzima Thabethe, 49, Thathayiphi Mdlalose, 48, Charles Smith, 40, Jeremy Marten, 39, Rubendren Naidoo, 33, Raymond Lee, 31, Anton Lockem, 44, and Bruce McInness, 43. - Sapa