KZN death squad controversy

The Sunday Times investigations team have rushed to defend themselves after Noseweek last month revealed the shady criminal origins of their 11 December front-page story labelling the Hawks’ Cato Manor organised crime unit a murderous “police death squad”.

Why Noseweek’s critical interest in another publication’s story? For a start, by means of that December report – much of it based on shaky or even false evidence – the Sunday Times managed to secure the disbanding of the Hawks unit and had Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa attempting to suspend its commanding officer Johan Booysen and several other senior police officers. (The police officers have succeeded in getting a court order preventing their suspension without there being any charges for them to answer.)

Mzilikazi Wa Afrika

By the police minister’s own admission, the only reason for his having ordered the disbanding of the Hawks unit was the Sunday Times report or, as he put it, “the stigma given to the unit by press reports”.

The newspaper’s December report therefore raised the spectre of criminals now having sufficiently high-level media and political connections to be able to disable any police or prosecuting entity that poses a serious threat to their activities.

Nose149 pointed out that all the police officers targeted by name in the Sunday Times probe were involved in the probe of serious corruption charges brought against a few businessmen and politicians – and their corrupt collaborators in the police service.

Noseweek also pointed out that two of the accused in a major police corruption case – businessman Thoshan Panday and his friend Colonel Navin Madhoe – had, late last year, been offering a “package” to various newspapers of supposed evidence, including a CD with pictures allegedly taken at the scenes of shootings by members of the Hawks unit. As far as Noseweek had been able to establish, the Sunday Times was the only taker. The cases cited and pictures used in the newspaper’s story are demonstrably derived almost entirely from the material on that CD.

The three Sunday Times journalists under whose bylines the original story appeared, set out to refute Noseweek’s accusations – and to launch a counter attack – in an editorial essay that appeared on the newspaper’s leader page on 4 March.

In it, the three reporters bravely claimed that Noseweek’s “rush to defend the Cato Manor hit squad is not based on facts”. They went on to deny that their story was based on that notorious CD purveyed by Thoshan Panday and his associates as a means of discrediting the policemen leading the cases against them. It was, said the newspaper’s journalists, based on their own independent research.

But Noseweek has good reason to believe that at least one, less scrupulous member of the Sunday Times team had to have known better. Confronted by Noseweek, Mzilikazi Wa Afrika has now admitted to having received the notorious CD and to having used material on it, but said he got the CD from senior officers in the Crime Intelligence Division at police headquarters in Pretoria, not from Panday. (If they were in fact the Sunday Times’ source, their motives are likely to have been as suspect, for very similar reasons. (See Dirty secret story in this issue.) Wa Afrika flatly denied ever having met, let alone spoken to, Panday. Which is where everything starts to unravel.

Panday, a wealthy Umhlanga man who drives a Ferrari – and claims to own an improbable number of other luxury sports cars – makes the bulk of his income doing business with the police, supplying everything from blankets for holding cells to hotel accommodation, to arms. Panday boasts that President Jacob Zuma’s sons Edward and Khula are his close friends, but denies using their influence to make money or influence tenders.

Says Panday: “In a good month I make R100m. Why do I need anyone to help me get tenders from the police?”

It is alleged in court papers that during the Soccer World Cup Panday and a Supply Chain Management cop, Navin Madhoe, contrived a scam in which Panday would submit massively inflated hotel accommodation bills –which his co-accused fraudster Madhoe would sign off on.

Johan Booysen, the provincial head of the Hawks in KwaZulu-Natal, investigated – and was almost immediately the subject of what he perceived to be a blackmail attempt aimed at halting the probe: Madhoe had asked to meet the top cop and showed him a series of gory photographs that Booysen recognised as crime scene photos. Some showed crime scenes his men had investigated, others showed suspects who had been shot dead by detectives in the unit. A few were of Booysen’s detectives drinking and braaing.

After showing Booysen the pictures, Madhoe allegedly closed his laptop screen and asked whether Booysen could help him. Booysen interpreted this as an unspoken threat: if he, Booysen, did not help get Madhoe off his corruption charges, the pictures would be used in a smear campaign.

Subsequently, Madhoe was trapped in a sting operation while trying to bribe Booysen – with over R1m in cash allegedly supplied by Panday.

When, shortly before Noseweek went to press, Panday and Madhoe apeared in the Durban Magistrate’s Court for remand on the latest bribery charges, five police officers were named in the charge sheet as witnesses to be called to testify on behalf of the State. All four just happen now to be under formal threat of suspension as a result of the Sunday Times article.

Despite his denial, we have a first-hand account of Sunday Times investigative reporter Mzilikazi Wa Afrika’s meeting with Panday and Madhoe and four other men – one of whom is believed to be Wa Afrika’s colleague Stephan Hofstatter at the Havana Lounge in Durban’s Gateway Mall in mid-November. One of those present at the meeting says that a computer memory stick was handed to the Sunday Times journalists.

Hofstatter admits to having been at the meeting but refuses to discuss the matter other than to insist the Sunday Times reporters used no information obtained from Panday in their story.

There have been more meetings with Panday since then.

has it on good authority that “technical” evidence exists to prove that Wa Afrika spoke to Panday at around 5:30pm on 8 March, when they agreed to meet at Nando’s near the Gateway Mall – convenient for Panday, whose offices are scarcely 100 metres away. Later the venue was changed to the McDonalds inside Gateway. In the initial minutes of the conversation Wa Afrika asked whether Panday had “the DVD” – and appeared disappointed when he replied that the DVD had already been “sold to Carte Blanche and 3rd Degree”. (Carte Blanche executive George Mazarakis assures Noseweek they have no such thing.)

The same mythical DVD has been promised to several members of the media in recent months. The Sunday Tribune says Panday promised them he would be able to supply a DVD that  showed scenes in which Booysen – a major-general and deputy provincial commissioner – is seen taking part in the brutal interrogation of suspects while drinking champagne. Some versions of the story have him smoking Cuban cigars at the same time.

The DVD is also allegedly said (by Panday) to show Booysen ordering the suspects be murdered – after that,  Booysen’s men purportedly execute their handcuffed prisoners before Booysen poses next to their bodies with his champagne glass.

(Clearly a parody of the original CD, it succeeds in holding out the threat of a horror movie to come, possibly to intimidate anyone who might be tempted to come to the defence of Booysen and his Hawks unit.)

• The Sunday Times identified Warrant Officer Paul Mostert as the man who killed Kwazi Ndlovu, saying Ndlovu was shot when police searched his home looking for an escaped prisoner. The inquest is complete but the court has yet to make a finding.

When Noseweek called Ndlovu’s family, they said they told the Sunday Times that two policemen, Captain Paul Mostert and Warrant Officer Paddy Padayachee had shot their son.

It seems the Sunday Times chose to omit Padayachee’s name. But then Mostert is a witness against corruption-accused Panday and Madhoe. Padayachee is not.

• Wa Afrika told Noseweek: “Before publishing the photographs that accompanied our articles, we used photo-verification software to ensure the dates and times matched the events depicted.” 

Maybe. But, whatever the software, it clearly could not verify who or what was pictured and to which unit the policemen involved might belong.

We have established that the Sunday Times team got it just a bit wrong a lot of the time – and very wrong on some occasions. Two examples:

• In January 2009, seven armed robbers and one member of the public were shot dead and several people seriously hurt in the course of an armed robbery at Chicago Meats, a Durban butchery that also functioned as a pension paypoint. CCTV footage shows the robbery taking place. Police Dog Unit and Flying Squad members responded within seconds. Twenty minutes after the robbery, eight men were dead in their bakkie – and are photographed by crime scene experts where they fell.

David Brandsma, the owner of Chicago Meats, said the robbers held up his security guard at gunpoint, then assaulted the manager on duty and demanded keys to the safe. CCTV footage shows that the robbers then jump into a waiting bakkie, five men piling into the back and two into the front. On the N3 freeway they engage in a gun battle with a Flying Squad car – which is disabled when its engine blows up after being hit by a bullet –  as well as a police Dog Unit car which continues the chase.

ER24 paramedic Derrick Banks  decided to follow the police in pursuit of the bakkie: “We saw a police dog unit vehicle stop just past the golf driving range on Rick Turner Road. A bullet had gone through the windscreen and had hit the male driver in his right upper chest. A bullet also grazed a female pedestrian on her arm. The driver had apparently had a mild heart attack and was rushed to St Augustine Hospital ’s ICU.”

Pedro Rodrigues of the Durban Dog Unit was the driver who collected a bullet in the chest – he was saved by his bullet-proof vest. Rodrigues’s partner, Mbongiseni Maphumulo, survived this shooting unscathed, but was killed in another shootout with armed robbers only months later. During the second shooting in which Maphumulo was killed, one armed robber was shot dead and three were arrested.

Maphumulo’s family told Noseweek that he had been shot and seriously injured on four occasions before the fatal shooting. The year before his death, Maphumulo’s dog Pluto had been shot in the spine but survived. A dog he’d owned previously, Tolkie, was shot dead in an earlier gun battle with armed robbers.

Rodrigues of the dog unit would be shot again, months after his partner was killed, this time, in the throat.

Back to the chase on the N3: a tow-truck driver from Durban South Towing, Wayne Heylen, also saw the police chasing the bakkie and decided to follow. He saw the bakkie crash in Maydon Road near the Durban Harbour and a protracted gun-battle ensued. It ended with all five robbers on the back of the bakkie, dead. The police officers involved in the final shootout were from the Dog Unit, the Flying Squad and Durban Metro Police.

Noseweek relates the above incident for two reasons: it gives a brief insight into the lives of policemen who have to deal with violent crime. And it shows that none of the policemen involved in this incident were from the Cato Manor organised crime unit.

But the picture of the dead robbers on the back of the bakkie was used by the Sunday Times to illustrate their story damning Johan Booysen as the commander of a police “death squad”.

Captain Anton Lockum, previously of the Cato Manor Organised Crime Unit said: “Those photographs were on our computers because we were investigating the crime. Nobody from our office was involved in the car chase or the shootout – we had the crime scene photographs as we were investigating who the gang was and whether they had any accomplices.”

• The Sunday Times also claimed that the Cato Manor Organised Crime Unit was being investigated for the murder of four men who were shot dead while asleep on a mattress in a hut outside Inanda. Noseweek checked it out – only to find that they had got that wrong, too. 

The record of the inquest, held before a magistrate in the Verulam Inquest Court, reveals that the four men shot dead on a mattress in April 2009 were shot dead by police officers from the Inanda police station, after two of their colleagues, Inspector Albert Gumede and Constable Mntungani Xulu were murdered while carrying out a dagga shake-out in a shebeen. The dead policemen’s guns were taken by their killers. Meanwhile, another policeman who survived the shooting telephoned his colleagues for help… reinforcements then went to a house where the alleged murderers were holed up. A shootout ensued and the suspects died from multiple medium and heavy caliber gunshot wounds. Nobody has been charged with these killings.

A lot remains unclear about the incident, but one thing is clear: no policemen from Durban or Cato Manor were involved.

•The Sunday Times makes some play of the repeated allegation that policemen involved in shootouts had “celebrated” after the event with drinks and a braai. Several photographs showing policemen celebrating were included on the original CD, presumably to demonstrate the unit’s callous attitude to the lot of their victims.

In one such photograph a member of the Cato Manor Unit is seen holding a single incriminating beer bottle – while sitting with a number of his colleagues who have neither glasses nor bottles to hand. The photograph is time-marked 7:22 am.

Bruce MacInnes, a former member of the Cato Manor unit, told  Noseweek that drinking beer, or even brandy, at 7am or 8am after a night shift was not unusual. MacInnes broke the back of many ATM bombing gangs while a member of the unit. He was also the subject of a book by Johnny Steinberg called Midlands – a fictionalised account of the farm murders that MacInnes solved during his police career.

“People writing about gunfights should have had to survive a gunfight themselves. After working all night, and especially if there was something as traumatic as a gunfight involved, it was normal to have a beer in the morning before trying to get to sleep with the sun shining through the windows. Very often there would be braais after work. Sometimes we would go to a pub, sometimes to a shebeen after work. Drink allows you to sleep. Beer is cheaper and probably healthier than sleeping tablets. A few beers would help us de-stress.”

As for the closure of the unit not affecting crime prevention, police spokesman Colonel Jay Naicker was quoted by Durban’s Daily News as saying a recent spate of violent house robberies and cash heists was due to the closure of Cato Manor. The next day the Daily News carried an apology saying Naicker had accidentally been misquoted.

MacInnes had another view: “Of course this has affected crime prevention. Anyone who says otherwise is mad or misguided. When you tell the 12 cops in the province that they cannot investigate any new cases, you don’t just hamstring them, you also hamstring all their dozens – or hundreds – of informers. In the last four years we have not had a serious cash-in-transit robbery in Durban. Within weeks of Cato Manor being closed down we had two: one in which a guard was murdered. There’s an agenda here.”

Cato Manor
Johan Booysen
Police death squad
Sunday Times
violent crime
organised crime
armed robbery
cash-in-transit heists
State capture
Mzilikazi wa Afrika
Thoshan Panday
Stephan Hofstatter
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Submitted by : . BOWMAN GILFILLAN INC of SANDTON on 2012-04-12 12:02:06
the makings of an Oscar winning movie!
Submitted by : Linda Nel of Cowie's Hill on 2012-04-01 13:29:17
Hmmm, no response in 1 April Sunday Times!
Submitted by : Andre Crause of SOUTHBROOM on 2012-03-28 14:12:06
I trust SARS has taken note of Panday's declaration that her earns up to R100m per month.
Submitted by : Scott Cundill of Johannesburg on 2012-03-27 19:47:56
Phenonmenal, phenomenal article.


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