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Durban - Members of the disbanded Cato Manor organised crime unit – who were suspended three months ago – were instructed not to return to duty on Wednesday, even though their three-month suspension has expired.
On Tuesday morning, the members decided to return to work after police management failed to institute disciplinary action on time.
But, at 3pm, they received a letter from the state attorney’s office informing them that their suspension would remain in place with full benefits.
The letter said it was not fair for the police to be expected to finalise the disciplinary processes within the three-month period.
But the members claim their suspensions were unlawful after management failed to hold a disciplinary hearing within that period, as stipulated in police regulations and on the suspension notice.
National police spokesman, Brigadier Phuti Sepati, said the suspensions were an internal matter and declined to comment further.
The police officers are facing charges of murder and racketeering after being accused of operating their unit as a “death squad”.
In total, 29 men, including KZN Hawks head Major-General Johan Booysen, two officers from the Port Shepstone organised crime unit and three from the SAPS national intervention unit, were suspended in September.
One of the accused, Captain Neville Eva, died last month.
Their attorney, Carl van der Merwe, said that he had sent a letter to national police commissioner General Riah Phiyega, informing her that the members planned to return to work.
“In the past 90 days, we have not heard a word from police management about disciplinary action,” he said. “I have written to the national commissioner telling her their suspension was unlawful.”
Van der Merwe said police regulations compelled the SAPS to hold a hearing within 60 days of a suspension.
A source close to the members described the lack of action by police management as a gross abuse of the administration process.
The source said police had failed to go ahead with the disciplinary hearing because their evidence against the members had been fabricated.
“Police management are also afraid that the political agenda behind the arrest of these men will be revealed.”
The source said members viewed the suspension as a blessing in disguise.
“It allowed them to dissect the more than 20 dockets handed to them by the prosecuting team. The members were also able to investigate the allegations against them. They have come up with a lot of evidence and have found bias from the investigating team.
“They are looking forward to their day in court. Most of these men are seasoned investigators. In their view, this was a shoddy investigation that has cost the taxpayer millions of rand in wasteful expenditure,” the source said.
“The investigating team comprised high-ranking officers. They flew between Durban and Johannesburg for a whole year and stayed at fancy hotels. What did they find?”
The members are adamant that they will be vindicated: “We have given years of service to the police. In some instances, members paid with their lives. But, if this is the price we have to pay to expose corruption, we are happy to do so.”
They said that if real evidence emerged to prove that they had done something wrong, they were happy to pay the price.
Senior Unisa criminologist Professor Rudolph Zinn said the members were trying to force the hand of police management by returning to work.
“There is no doubt police management will take action to stop them from being on active duty. The provincial commissioner has the authority to place them on special leave,” he said.
Zinn said he doubted if the members would be successful in remaining at work before the court processes were finalised.
He said he was concerned that no due process was being followed.
“The police need to fast-track the internal processes. But they just appear to be silent on everything.”
was even more worrying, he said, was the credibility of police: “In the eyes of the public, they see the police as an organisation that adhered to the law. By not following due process in this case, the police are losing their integrity.
“They are tainting their own image. The public will end up not trusting them.”
The provincial head of the organised crime unit, Brigadier Patrick Mbotho, said he was unaware that members had been due to return to work.
“I have a letter informing me of their suspension,” he said.
“I have nothing in writing telling me that the suspension has been lifted.” - Daily News