Durban 20062012 Cator Manor organised crime unit members get arrested at their homes. .Picture:Marilyn Bernard

Their wrists bound with cable ties, members of the Durban organised crime unit tried to hold their heads high after being arrested by the Hawks for allegedly being part of a hit squad responsible for deliberately killing suspects during shoot-outs or in police custody.

One by one they were taken to the offices of the SAPS 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 on Wednesday, 11 members had been arrested. By 12.15pm, this number had increased to 14, and shortly before 2pm the Hawks and the Independent Police Investigative Directorate confirmed they had arrested all 20 members on the list “in the first phase of investigations”.

Hawks spokesman McIntosh Polela said 17 members had been arrested “at various addresses” in and around Durban, while three had been arrested in Gauteng – one on the West Rand and two at the police training college in Hammanskraal.

“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 appeared in court on Thursday morning on charges of murder, theft, unlawful possession of guns and ammunition and assault.

Some of the items seized by task force members at the homes of the arrested police officers allegedly included an undisclosed amount of counterfeit cash, ammunition, crime scene photo albums and case dockets.

Investigative directorate spokesman Moses Dlamini said the arrests emanated from the directorate’s investigations, which started in December, into the deaths of suspects in police custody or as a result of police action.

While neither Dlamini nor Polela would confirm the incidents the members’ alleged crimes pertained to, Polela said they did not relate to the killing of taxi boss Bongani Mkhize in a police shoot-out in 2009, or cases involving taxi gangs or ATM bombings.

“(Arrests relating to these) should come in future,” he said.

Polela also confirmed that KZN Hawks boss Major-General Johan Booysen was not among those arrested.

“He was not part of this investigation nor 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 before 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-branded jacket, as he was led past journalists and photographers.

Dressed in a bright yellow shirt, Olivier then uncovered his face when urged to do so by someone who knew him. He responded, albeit unconvincingly: “I am strong, I am strong.”

Shortly before that, Warrant Officer Ajith Ganesh, his hands tied behind his back with yellow 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.

He was secured with blue cable ties.

Dressed in blue jeans and a grey T-shirt, Naidoo’s facial expression gave very little away.

Apart from the arrival of the suspects, attention was grabbed by a constant flow of police officers entering and leaving 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 a computer processing unit. - The Mercury