Durban - One of the 27 policemen from the so-called “Cato Manor death squad” died a day after the charges against them were withdrawn.
Warrant Officer Ajith Ghaness, who had been working in the Durban Organised Crime Unit since May last year, died yesterday from multiple organ failure.
Ghaness was the fourth member of the Cato Manor Organised Crime Unit to have died since the charges were brought against them in 2012.
His three other colleagues who have since died were Captain Neville Eva, Lieutenant Mhlabunzima Thabethe and Captain Vincent Auerbach.
On Wednesday, the charges against members of the former unit were withdrawn at the Durban High Court.
The Daily News had reported on their “bitter-sweet victory” and their seven-year fight to prove their innocence.
Yesterday, former KwaZulu-Natal Hawks boss and former head of the Cato Manor unit, who was also charged with his team, Major General Johan Booysen, said he had been saddened by the news of his former colleague’s death.
A fellow member of the unit, who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak to the media, said he had been shocked by Ghaness’s death.
He felt it could be directly pinned on the prosecution they had been facing over the past seven years. He said Ghaness had fallen ill about a month ago.
“The charges took away the spirit of the unit members, as we had spent days and nights together investigating cases, and spent many hours away from home,” he said.
He was saddened that Ghaness did not get to enjoy freedom after having the charges withdrawn.
The policeman said Auerbach had also been extremely active and fit before the charges were laid against them in 2012.
Eva’s son Ashton yesterday posted his condolences on the Durban Organised Crime Unit - KZN Facebook page: “Rest in peace boss! You were there for me in my darkest moments, a light that shone so bright! We will fight for what is right! Angel’s east Angel’s west north and south may you guard him whilst he rests.”
Troubles started for the unit after the Sunday Times reported on it operating as if it was a death squad.
This resulted in the former deputy director of public prosecutions, Nomgcobo Jiba, instituting charges against the 27 men.
The men had faced charges, which included racketeering and the murder of 45 people.
This led to a seven-year court battle. The charges were withdrawn, but in 2016 former NPA head Shaun Abrahams re-instated the charges.
Last week, Abrahams’ successor, Shamila Batohi, said the charges would be withdrawn following an internal investigation by a panel that had reviewed them.
Earlier this year, the Sunday Times said that the claims in the articles were not thoroughly substantiated and apologised.
This resulted in a huge public uproar as the paper took criticism for having published the articles.