Durban – Former KwaZulu-Natal Hawks’ boss Johan Booysen has not ruled out a return to the police after charges against him and several others were dropped at the Durban High Court on Wednesday.
“I would like to make a contribution to fight crime in the country, which is rife,” Booysen told African News Agency (ANA) at the courthouse.
“I am going to keep my options open and if I am approached, I am prepared to make a contribution in whatever way.”
Booysen – now in the private sector - would not comment when asked if he had been approached to assist in a consultative or other capacity within the police. “I won’t answer that at this juncture,” he said, laughing.
The legal battle endured by the former general and members of the so-called Cato Manor “death squad” came to an abrupt halt in the court just minutes earlier as the charges they were facing were withdrawn.
The group was facing 116 charges and was accused, among others, of racketeering and the extra judicial killings of 45 people.
Whether or not individual members of the group will be prosecuted is now the decision of the KwaZulu-Natal prosecution head, advocate Elaine Zungu.
However, Booysen and the members made it clear at the courthouse that they were “innocent”, that the charges "lacked substance", and that that they would defend themselves in court if again charged.
Barring those who retired, resigned or died of natural causes, the remaining unit members have resumed work within the police after being cleared through internal enquiries.
Following Wednesday’s appearance, the men gathered on the steps of the court where long-time supporter Penny Katz read a statement on behalf of the group.
The men were charged in 2012 by former deputy national director of public prosecutions, Nomgcobo Jiba, following reports in the Sunday Times that the unit had acted as a “death squad”.
(The paper has since said the allegations in the articles were not thoroughly substantiated and apologised.)
Following a legal to-and-fro, the charges were eventually dropped but were reinstated by former national prosecution head Shaun Abrahams.
Last week, Abrahams’ permanent successor, Shamila Bathoi, said the charges would be withdrawn following an internal investigation.
Reading the statement while surrounded by Booysen and the members, Katz said their 2012 arrests were executed in a “cavalier fashion” without individual members being able to state their version of events.
“During seven years since the arrests, the members were subjected to suspensions, humiliation and disciplinary processes. In each and every instance, the members were exonerated by independent presiding officers which included inter alia advocate Nazeer Cassim, senior counsel,” said Katz.
“The prosecution team maintained that the members committed extra judicial killings and portrayed those who were killed by the police during shootouts as ‘victims’. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“While the loss of any life ought to be lamented, the loss of life by these criminals was of their own doing. In our view, they were wanted criminals who have made themselves guilty of the most heinous crimes imaginable.”
Katz said what received little mention throughout the saga was that over a four-year period, the Cato Manor unit was responsible for the arrests of more than 400 “hardened criminals”.
Booysen has maintained throughout the saga that he was on the receiving end of a politically motivated decision because he would not halt investigations into politically connected individuals.
Three of the unit members have died since the start of the saga, namely captain Neville Eva, lieutenant Thabs Thabethe and captain Vincent Auerbach.