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More than 20 members of the Durban Organised Crime Unit, Cato Manor, have been arrested for murder by a national task force.
Since very early on Wednesday morning, eight to 10 highly trained policemen, each headed by a colonel and using unmarked vehicles, swooped on the homes of members.
But the National Intervention Unit (NIU) found most of the policemen had been tipped off and were not there.
To avoid traumatising their wives and children, the members had left their homes and gathered with their attorney, Carl van der Merwe, from 6pm on Tuesday night at the Durban organised crime unit headquarters in Margaret Mncadi Avenue (Victoria Embankment).
They were insisting that they have a lawyer present when they were arrested. The men gathering at their offices did not deter a team of more than 200 NIU members, headed by Major-General Ntebo “Jan” Mabula, head of the Hawks in the North West Province.
Mabula was appointed to investigate allegations that members of the organised crime unit – Cato Manor operated as a “hit squad”.
Later on Wednesday morning the visibly distressed members handed themselves over to the arresting officers from the NIU, at their homes where they had returned.
The unit’s operational commander Colonel Willie Olivier was also arrested at his eManzimoti home.
The men are facing charges of murder, attempted murder, assault, housebreaking with the intent to commit murder, unlawful possession of firearms and ammunition, and malicious damage to property.
After their arrests, members were not allowed to use their cellphones or communicate with their families.
NIU members, some in uniform and others in civilian clothing, conducted lengthy searches at all the homes.
Computers, cellphones, documents and clothing were reported to have been seized.
Van Der Merwe was present during several of the searches and arrests.
He said it was unclear where the members were being taken to or which court they were expected to appear in.
Warrant Officer Tata Mdlalose was arrested at his Wentworth home and had been taken to an undisclosed location, Van der Merwe said.
“The NIU members are refusing to disclose where Tata is being taken. He was just allowed one phone call to me. The NIU top brass are insisting the members return to their homes,” he had said from the unit’s offices.
“I am representing all of them and they want to be arrested in my presence. That is why we have gathered here.
“General Mabula wants the members to return to their homes. Once there, the searches will be conducted in their presence and then they will be arrested.”
Despite being a logistical nightmare, Van der Merwe, said he was attempting to secure more legal representation to accompany members home.
Since 6.30am, heated arguments ensued between Mabula and Van der Merwe.
Van der Merwe demanded a list of the names of members facing arrest. Mabula refused.
“I told him that he has our full co-operation and he must come here and arrest the members. But, he refused.”
Clearly stressed and agitated members claimed their wives and children were being intimidated by heavily armed men, in camouflage uniforms.
“They are outside my house pointing guns in the direction of my wife and eight-year-old son.
“These guys are crazy. They have threatened to call in reinforcements if my wife does not open the door.”
Another said his 81-year-old mother-in-law was in an emotional state after the NIU went to his home.
Members had been told on Monday that the plan was to arrest and handcuff them at home in front of their families.
They claimed the plan was to take members by surprise in a bid to intimidate and interrogate them.
Van der Merwe had sent a letter to Deputy Commissioner Lieutenant-General Anwa Dramat’s office.
“I told him there were rumours the arrests of the members were imminent. I promised our full co-operation and to make all the members available to him. I said arresting them at home was not necessary,” he said today.
Some claimed the raid was orchestrated to boost the police minister and new commissioner.
They felt that the heavy-handed approach by the NIU was part of a political agenda.
“Police Minister Nathi Mthetwa and the newly appointed police commissioner Mangwashi Phiyega want to show the nation they are in charge. They are using us as an example to further their own agendas for position and power.
“But, the truth will prevail. We will have our day in court,” one said.
They said KZN provincial commissioner Lieutenant-General Mmamonnye Ngobeni and Hawks head Major-General Johan Booysen had not been informed of the arrests.
Neither could not be reached for comment. - Daily News