Police are hot on the trail of the businessmen who ordered the hit on specialist policeman Warrant Officer Johan Nortje this week, and disclosed yesterday that the hero cop had made a R100-million counterfeit bust in Durban harbour three weeks ago.
It is being investigated whether Nortje’s interception of the consignment of knock-off branded clothing from China could be why he was shot in the driveway of his Montclair home on Monday morning. He was shot twice in the chest and died at the scene.
Nortje was an officer in the police’s Protection Security Service, and was responsible for investigating smuggling of goods and drugs through Durban harbour. He worked with the SA Revenue Service, harbour police and other customs officials.
KwaZulu-Natal police commissioner Mamunye Ngobeni paid tribute to Nortje at his funeral on Friday, describing the 51-year-old as “our hero”.
Before his body was laid to rest at the emotionally charged funeral, officers from the elite Organised Crime and Crime Intelligence units had already nabbed three men for the “hit” and a fourth - described as the “trigger-man” - had been shot and killed. Now police are going after whoever “ordered” Nortje’s death.
“This wasn’t a hijacking. This wasn’t theft. This wasn’t robbery. The guys who did this were carrying out a hit. I don’t think there is any doubt about it,” a police source close to the investigation told the Sunday Tribune yesterday.
Mandlenkosi Chiliza, 21, and Nkosinathi Ntuli, 27, were arrested during a raid on a home in Umlazi’s T-section at about 3am on Friday, and Bheki Khuzwayo, 44, was arrested in a separate raid in Maphumulo on Friday afternoon.
During a raid in Umlazi, Philani Dlamini, 33, was shot and killed after he allegedly opened fire on officers as they went to arrest him - he is the man believed to have pulled the trigger and kille d Nortje. The other three will appear in the Durban Magistrate’s Court tomorrow.
During the arrest, a Toyota Condor, believed to have been the getaway vehicle, and a 9mm pistol were recovered. Police spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Vincent Mdunge said it was “possible” that this was the gun used to kill Nortje, but that they were awaiting ballistic results.
“We are absolutely confident that we got the guy who pulled the trigger and the people who were there and involved on the day Nortje was killed. But the investigation isn’t going to end there. We are going to track down whoever ordered the hit,” the senior officer said.
Mdunge said Nortje had stopped several consignments of fake goods from passing through the harbour in December and January. However, it was the one a few weeks ago that was the biggest.
“About two weeks ago there was another huge consignment, valued at well over R100m, that was recorded. Nortje was spear-heading that investigation.
“These goods were transported between China, other foreign states and South Africa. It was a huge syndicate that he has been facing, but he did not stop doing his work until the very end,” Mdunge said, adding that Nortje had faced intimidation in the past.
However, a senior police source said it was not yet known whether Nortje’s death was directly linked to this latest bust.
In December, a Durban businessman tried to bribe Nortje to “turn a blind eye” and allow a container through, but Nortje instead reported the incident. A sting was set up and the man was arrested. There were also other multi-million rand busts Nortje had been involved in.
“We are investigating whether or not his death was linked specifically to one case or whether it was because of his general work in the harbour. He was a vital cog in the port investigations, especially when it came to searching containers. His signature was vital in getting containers passed,” the officer said.
More than 500 people attended Nortje’s funeral at the Assumption Parish, Umbilo, on Friday afternoon, including dozens of police officers, many on the verge of tears. They formed a guard of honour as Nortje’s coffin was wheeled out of the church by his sons, Nick and Clinton, and other family members. The Last Post was played in his honour.
Nick Nortje paid tribute to his dad. “I always thought my dad was a superhero. He fell five stories and lived. He got up and walked again. Then I saw him become human (when) mom fell ill. It is the only time I can recall seeing him cry. He had the biggest heart and he loved mom dearly.
“Dad was the most humble person you could ever meet. When I was young and I’d walk with him, people would shout, ‘Hey, Nortch’ and I’d ask who those people were and how they know him. He would just say, ‘I’m good at what I do.’
“I salute my father, my mentor, my hero. May you rest in peace, Dad.”
Speaking at the funeral, KwaZulu-Natal police commissioner Ngobeni said there would be no leniency for people who killed police officers.
“I can promise that anybody who touches a member of the police, we will find you. If you don’t hand yourselves over when we find you, well, accidents might happen. I don’t understand, have never understood and will never understand why someone would kill another person. Because of their actions, I don’t want to classify these criminals as human beings,” she said.
Referring to Dlamini’s death, she said: “The difference between him and Warrant Officer Nortje was that Nortje died a good, honest man.”
Looking directly at Nortje’s wife, Karilyn, and his sons, Ngobeni said: “We can’t bring back the life of Nortje, but I want to assure you that those who are involved will be arrested. They will be prosecuted and they will face the full might of the law.”
Nortje also trained younger officers in his unit.
“He was a very dedicated member of the police force, and very trusted among his colleagues.
“He had been a member of the force for 33 years, so he was very experienced - and his peers respected that. Nortje was very easy to work with, jovial and friendly. He was hugely respected,” his commanding officer Brigadier Anthony Gopaul said.
Robbie van Dyk, a former policeman who worked with Nortje for the best part of a decade, described him as “the best cop I have ever worked with”.
“He was the most committed guy you could ever work with. He was the most energetic person and enthusiastic about his job. He was an absolute workhorse and he went out of his way to do his job,” Van Dyk said.
SARS spokesman Adrian Lackay was initially quoted in the media as saying Nortje’s murder was a “hit”, but toned that down significantly when approached for comment.
“Many (customs officials and SARS) investigators work on investigations into smuggling activities by organised crime syndicates and they expose themselves and their families to the danger of being attacked, assaulted, shot at or killed. In Durban last year, a customs official was shot for the second time and ended up in hospital in a very serious condition.
“SARS would prefer not to make further comments on this matter because of security concerns,” he said. - Sunday Tribune