Nightclub bouncers 'part of drug mafia'
By Fred Kockott
The nightclub security industry is ruled by thugs enjoy protection from police officers capable of corrupting investigations, says a mountain of a man who was a bouncer boss but now wants to shut down the industry.
Bible in one hand, gun in the other, security specialist Mike Bolhuis is a man on a mission to expose mafia-like control over a nightclub security industry turned corrupt.
Himself once a bouncer boss in the dock on charges of conspiring to commit assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, Bolhuis has been helping the police in investigate the security network of bouncers at clubs in Johannesburg and Pretoria for several years.
"I could once say with pride that I had the biggest bouncer group in South Africa," says Bolhuis. "Then bouncers started getting into serious steroid use, drugs and alcohol abuse and are now caught up in territorial drug trafficking.
"Today the main guys at the door - moonlighting policemen included - are not just providing security at a club, but protecting bigger business interests linked to drug syndicates and the like," says Bolhuis.
"These are the guys who go out and kneecap people who owe drug lords money, or get roped into turf wars between competing tow-truck operators. They are the feet and arms for all the dirty work that needs doing.
"The press makes a hoo-ha about all this steroid-induced violence at clubs, but it goes way beyond that. These guys are bad, man, really bad," says Bolhuis.
With 25 years experience in "the bouncing business" and debt collection, Bolhuis claims to have evidence that the industry today is controlled by "a mafiosi-like syndicate, involved in drug-orientated rackets".
"These incidents, like what happened to that lightie outside Tiger Tiger in Rivonia at the weekend, are nothing compared with the bigger picture," says Bolhuis.
Bolhuis was referring to the near-fatal assault of 22-year-old Bradley Silberman and two other Wits unversity students outside the Johannesburg club at 2am last Sunday.
Granting R10 000 bail to one of the men who allegedly beat Silberman within inches of his life, Randburg magistrate Deon Pool sized up the accused, Ashley Ginder, before launching into a tirade.
"I'm tired of steroid-induced violent crowd control," said Pool.
"This is the third incident before me this year involving a Rivonia club. It's time the police were more visible. Maybe it's time to close down some of these clubs. If (Silberman) goes any further down the road, you're looking at culpable homicide."
Ginder is a shareholder in the Elite Security Group, which was - until the weekend's incident - contracted by Tiger Tiger in Rivonia to provide security.
Bolhuis says many people employed as bouncers are prone to unnecessary, extreme acts of violence, and that in the absence of control, things often go awry.
"And what was true 10 years ago is 10 times worse today," adds Bolhuis.
"It's because of the big money behind the infiltration of drugs into South Africa. The whole bouncing industry is caught up in it. Clubs either sell drug themselves, or get paid for simply permitting dealing on site.
"Because of the megabucks involved, these businesses are now financially very strong and can pull strings. All sorts of people are on their payrolls - businessmen, policemen, sports celebrities, even state prosecutors," claims Bolhuis.
"Dockets disappear like you cannot believe. And intimidation, well, that's another story."
Bolhuis tells the story of a Germiston prosecutor and his wife being frog-marched from their home, bundled into a car, and dropped about 20km out of town, where they were stripped naked and left to make their own way home.
"This is the kind of thing they do to get their way. They also turn on each other," says Bolhuis, who has had 24 unsolved murder cases referred to his security company, Specialised Security Services, over the past five years.
"These cases are connected to territorial disputes, protection rackets and other goings-on within the industry in Johannesburg and Pretoria," says Bolhuis.
A classic case, says Bolhuis, was the murder with a butcher's knife of bouncer Patrick Caetano at Kyalami Business Park late in December, 2002.
Having assisted a specialised SAPS unit with such investigations, Bolhuis, who was last year acquitted of conspiring to assault a group of drug dealers, has earned the wrath of underworld players in the security network of bouncers. This week he received a death threat via a Johannesburg newspaper.
"A guy calling himself Lange phoned me," said crime reporter Gill Gifford, who is covering investigations into the assault of Silberman.
"He said he represented the guys from Elite and asked me to pass on a message to Mike Bolhuis that they were coming for him and would also kill his kids."
But Gifford said Bolhuis did not appear particularly perturbed by the threat. "He's a real urban cowboy with his 'I'll shoot you dead, but God bless your brother' kind of attitude."
Bolhuis's security company provides a range of services, including "forensic investigations" to people who are disappointed with police progress in criminal cases.
"I have a forensics team which I use to investigate murders, child molestation, rape, gang-related violence and farm murders. Investigating some of the violent crimes we do free, but we charge for debt collection, protection services and civil cases.
"It all started 25 years ago," says Bolhuis. "A husband and wife were fighting at the New Union Hotel. The husband bumped me. I got a shocker on my nose, but I calmed things down. The manager saw it happen and asked me to hang around every Friday night.
"After a while I appointed extra people to work for me, the biggest and the best. Our services became very sought after."
But the psyche behind security at nightclubs has changed, says Bolhuis.
"Look at me, I'm a big guy, well built, strong. I am stable, composed, I have a decent office and staff. I wear a suit and tie, and will give you a business card. I come across respectable.
"But these others are thugs - intimidating and uncaring. They are a spin-off from the Hells Angels, which at least had basic rules and ethics. But these guys, excuse my language, are low mother-f....s. But I'm not scared of them. My organisation is strong. We've got heart, passion and hate crime. We are family people."
While Elite could not be contacted for comment, the manager of Tiger Tiger in Rivonia, Denis Vaden, said as a result of Sunday's incident, the club had ended its contract with Elite.
Investigating officer Det Insp Danie Nelson said Silberman was still fighting for his life in hospital. He said the assault had been captured on closed circuit television, and two more suspects were being sought.
"We're receiving calls from people in Durban complaining that nothing has been done about similar assault cases at Durban's Tiger Tiger and other clubs. There could be a link between these cases. Our investigations are heading in that direction," said Nelson, a member of the SAPS task team appointed to look into incidents of gang-related and bouncer violence.
Nelson said people who have information about unsolved or recent assaults at Tiger Tiger and other clubs in Durban should call him at 082 413 3079.
However, the owner of Tiger Tiger in Durban, Guy van der Post, said only one case of assault, 18 months ago, was still pending finalisation in court, with charges dropped against all bouncers except for one, Kevin Thomas, who has pleaded innocent of any wrongdoing.
"There has not been a serious incident since," said Van der Post, who is also a shareholder in the Rivonia Tiger Tiger.
Van der Post said last weekend's incident in Johannesburg did not involve any bouncers on duty, but off-duty members of Elite whose services had since been terminated.
"In Durban, we don't have the kind of problems which Bolhuis talks of," said Van der Post.
"There are no bouncing cartels, groups or syndicates involved in providing nightclub security in Durban.
"Each club makes its own arrangements and hires its own, individual door staff and security."
Van der Post said although Durban club owners set strict standards to ensure professional conduct of door staff, regulations governing employment of bouncers at nightclubs, as happens in the UK and elsewhere, were needed to prevent problems encountered at many Johannesburg clubs.
"In Durban, the negative exposure in the press about assaults at clubs has meant that bouncers are very carefully watched, but even stricter standards could still be applied," added Van der Post.
At the time of going to press, the police had not responded to queries regarding investigations into assault cases at Durban clubs.