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There are 20 names on the charge sheet, but only 18 men in the 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 a leg.
The 20 were arrested in pre-dawn raids on Tuesday in Durban and on the West Rand. All 20 were due to appear in court yesterday to apply for bail.
“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 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 said 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National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga confirmed that charges against Nzama and Ngondwana were withdrawn “but there were ongoing investigations against them”.
The remaining 18 are 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.
The state, through advocate Raymond Mathenjwa, attempted to paint a picture of a gang of murderous thugs, undeserving of any sympathy or of bail.
In response, 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 wept.
All of them have said they are innocent.
Eva declined to answer comments, and the others have submitted affidavits.
The bail application was expected to continue today.