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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.
One by one they were taken to the offices of the SA Police Service air wing at the old Durban International Airport after being arrested at their homes following early morning search and seizure operations by 60 Hawks task force members.
By 11am yesterday, 11 members had been arrested. By 12:15pm, this 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 17 members were arrested in and around Durban, while three were arrested in Gauteng – one in the West Rand and two at the police training college in Hamanskraal.
“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,” Polela said.
The 20 members will appear in court this morning, on 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 emanated 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 alleged crimes committed by the arrested policemen, Polela said they did not relate to the killing of taxi boss Bongani Mkhize in a police shootout in 2009, or cases involving taxi gangs or ATM bombings.
“(Arrests relating to these) should come out in the future.”
Polela also confirmed that KZN Hawks boss Major-General Johan 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, prior to this morning’s court appearance, several were instantly recognised by journalists gathered at the scene of their detention, as they were taken inside the air wing offices.
The organised crime unit commander, Colonel Willie Olivier, initially tried to hide his face under his black Sharks rugby-branded jacket, as he was lead past journalists and photographers.
Shortly 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 exiting the building, carrying evidence bags. The evidence, apparently gathered from the members’ homes during the morning’s search and seizure operation, was visible through clear plastic bags, and included a rifle and computer processing unit.