Back from retirement: Colonel Boats Botha. File photo: Chris Collingridge.

Johannesburg - Colonel Boats Botha is a man of few words. But when he talks about his work as a policeman, his passion for fighting crime is palpable.

Botha was to retire on May 31 but his bosses persuaded him to return to head the new National Investigation Unit (NINU). The outfit recently bust a gang targeting African travellers flying to South Africa, and attacking and robbing them after they arrive at OR Tambo airport.


Botha prefers to work on cases of violent crime rather than white collar crime. “It sounds very bad but I prefer to investigate violent crime,” Botha says, adding that he recently was part of a team which investigated Oscar Pistorius.

“Being on a crime scene and getting down to finding the clues to catch a criminal. It is just so much more satisfying when you crack a case like that and get justice for the victims of those senseless crimes. I would rather do that than, say, fraud.”

It is with this in mind that the NINU was formed. The unit, which reports to police commissioner Riah Phiyega and Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko, have been tasked with tackling priority crimes – and the airport syndicates are classified as such.

Botha says there are two kinds of syndicates operating at OR Tambo – one set would target travellers and attack them en route to their hotels and guest houses.

“They would impersonate police officers, flash badges and ultimately rob the people.”

The other group would follow the people and corner them at the destinations.

The unit has arrested 18 people, including South Africans and Zimbabweans. And he warns that he and his team are hot on the heels of another 11 suspects.

“These guys were specifically targeting African travellers. The majority of the victims are from Angola. I think it is because there aren’t really sufficient banking facilities there and so they travel with all their valuables.

“We are working with Angolan authorities right now to see how we can co-ordinate our law enforcement to curb these incidents.”

Botha says the travellers are spotted inside the airport when they declare their valuables. But he believes that it is also possible that they are targeted at their own airports before they have even left.

Saturday Star