Bronwyn Fourie and SAPA
Handcuffed with cable ties, members of Durban’s Cato Manor organised crime unit tried to hold their heads high yesterday after being arrested by the Hawks for allegedly being part of a death squad responsible for deliberately killing suspects.
They were taken to the offices of the SAPS air wing at the old Durban International Airport after being arrested at their homes in early morning search and seizure operations by 60 Hawks task force members.
Three members were arrested in Gauteng – two in Hammanskraal, north of Pretoria, and one on the West Rand.
The rest were arrested in various locations around Durban.
The unit’s commanding officer, Major-General Johan Booysen, who was also the KwaZulu-Natal boss of the Hawks, was not one of the 20.
Lawyers for the men unsuccessfuly sought an urgent interdict to have their arrests declared unlawful.
However, Judge Trevor Gorven ordered that their bail hearing take place in the Durban Regional Court today.
Usually, bail hearings are not heard at an accused person’s first court appearance.
The application for the arrests to be declared unlawful was adjourned indefinitely.
By 11am yesterday, 11 members had been arrested. By 12.15pm, that number had increased to 14, and shortly before 2pm, the Hawks and Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) confirmed that they had arrested all 20 members on the list “in the first phase of investigations”.
Hawks spokesman McIntosh Polela said: “It is not always a nice thing to arrest some of our colleagues, but we took an oath to fight crime without fear or favour. Whether we are happy about it or not, we have to do it.”
The 20 members face charges of murder, theft, unlawful possession of guns and ammunition, and assault.
Items seized by task force members at the homes of the arrested police officers included counterfeit cash, ammunition, crime scene photo albums and case dockets.
Ipid spokesman Moses Dlamini said the arrests arose from the directorate’s investigations, which started in December, into deaths of suspects in police custody or as a result of police action.
While neither Dlamini nor Polela would confirm the crimes allegedly committed by the arrested policemen, Polela said they did not relate to the killing of taxi boss Bongani Mkhize in a police shoot-out in 2009, or cases involving taxi gangs or ATM bombings.
“(Arrests relating to these) should come out in the future.”
Polela also confirmed that Booysen was not among those arrested.
“He was not a part of this investigation or among the people whose names were on the list. With regard to future arrests, I do not want to speculate.”
Although the names of the arrested officers were not released yesterday, before this morning’s court appearance, several were instantly recognised by journalists at the scene of their detention, as they were taken inside the air wing offices.
Organised crime unit commander Colonel Willie Olivier initially tried to hide his face under his Sharks-branded jacket, as he was led past journalists and photographers.
Soon before that, Warrant Officer Ajith Ganesh, his hands tied behind his back with cable ties, was taken into custody.
‘Although he appeared to be trying to maintain his dignity, looking up and ahead, his eyes held a painful gaze.
Warrant Officer Shane Naidoo – the investigating officer in the Lotter murder case – was the last of the 20 members to be taken into the offices to join his arrested colleagues.
Apart from the arrival of the suspects, attention was grabbed by a constant flow of police officers entering and leaving the building, carrying evidence bags.
The evidence, apparently gathered from the members’ homes during the search and seizure operation, was visible through clear plastic bags, and included a rifle and a computer processing unit.