There are 20 names on the charge sheet – but only 18 men in dock, sparking speculation that investigators may have persuaded two of the Cato Manor “death squad” to give evidence for the State.
Number 19 on the “provisional indictment” is Dumisani Nzama. Number 20 is Vusi Ngondwana. Both are from the national intervention unit, which often assisted the Cato Manor unit with arrests of high-risk suspects. Ngondwana is seriously injured and walks on crutches after being shot in the leg during an operation.
The 20 were arrested in pre-dawn raids on Wednesday. “They have been separated out and interrogated by members of the investigation team without their lawyers,” defence advocate Guido Penzhorn, SC, complained to Durban regional court magistrate Sharon Marks at the bail application yesterday.
When the policemen filed into the dock – made bigger through incorporating the front row of the public gallery – the two men were absent.
Lawyer Carl van der Merwe told The Star Africa they had been his clients but he had not seen them all day. “I believe they are no longer facing charges,” he said. National Prosecuting Authority spokes-man Mthunzi Mhaga confirmed that charges against them had been withdrawn “but there were ongoing investigations against them”.
It was a day of heartbreak for the family, friends and colleagues of the men who crammed into the courtroom to hear that they are collectively facing 14 counts of murder and 57 others of housebreaking, possession of ammunition, possession of unlawful firearms, defeating the ends of justice, theft, assault, pointing of firearms and malicious damage to property.
And while the State, through Advocate Raymond Mathenjwa, attempted to paint a picture that the men were simply a gang of murderous thugs, undeserving of any sympathy or of bail, the defence presented evidence of a group of hard-working policemen who worked tirelessly on 24-hour call to arrest dangerous suspects and who had co-operated fully with the six-month investigation into the “death squad” allegations.
Wives and girlfriends cried in the public gallery and two of the accused – Captain Neville Eva and Warrant Officer Shane Naidoo – also broke down during the proceedings.
Naidoo was doubled over as he listened to a relative, also a policeman, testify about how his younger brother had died of a heart attack on Tuesday soon after being told of his arrest. “We ask that he be allowed to go home so that he can go to the funeral and help his mother who is also ill,” Warrant Officer Dean Pillay said.
The prosecutor had only sharp retorts. “I am sorry for that. Why are you telling us? Have you been informed of why he (Naidoo) is before this court? Do you know the nature of the cases against him?” Mathenjwa asked, to gasps from the public gallery.
Mathenjwa was equally dismissive when Eva – struggling to hold back tears – explained that he had suffered multiple organ failure in January. “If I get another infection, I will die. It’s as simple as that. And cells and prisons are not hygienic.”
Mthanenjwa retorted: “So they are not clean. What have you done as a police officer to make sure that people you have put there (in cells) have clean toilets?”
Mathenjwa insisted while cross-examining Eva that witnesses had already been threatened.
All the suspects have indicated that they are innocent.
They were held at Durban central police station cells last night and the bail application will continue today.