There are 20 names on the charge sheet – but only 18 men in the dock, sparking speculation that after Tuesday’s dawn arrests of policemen linked to an alleged Cato Manor organised crime unit “death squad”, investigators may have persuaded two of them to give evidence for the State.
Number 19 on the “provisional indictment” is Dumisani Nzama. Number 20 is Vusi Ngondwana. Both are from the national intervention unit, which often assisted the Cato Manor unit with arrests of high-risk suspects.
Ngondwana is seriously injured and walks on crutches after being shot in the leg during an operation.
“They have been separated out and interrogated by members of the investigation team without their lawyers,” defence advocate Guido Penzhorn, SC, complained to Durban regional court magistrate Sharon Marks at the start of the bail application yesterday.
When the policemen filed into the dock – made bigger through incorporating the front row of the public gallery – the two men were absent.
Lawyer Carl van der Merwe told The Mercury they had been his clients but he had not seen them all day.
“I believe they are no longer facing charges,” he said.
NPA spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga confirmed that charges against them had been withdrawn “but there were ongoing investigations against them”.
It was a day of heartbreak for the family, friends and colleagues of the men who crammed into the courtroom to hear that they would stand trial in the high court and face 14 counts of murder and 57 others of housebreaking, possession of ammunition, possession of unlawful firearms, defeating the ends of justice, theft, assault, pointing of firearms and malicious damage to property.
And, while the state, through advocate Raymond Mathenjwa, attempted to paint a picture that the men were simply a gang of murderous thugs, undeserving of any sympathy or of bail, the defence presented evidence of a group of hard-working policemen who worked tirelessly on 24-hour call to arrest dangerous suspects and who had co-operated fully with the six- month investigation into the “death squad” allegations.
Wives and girlfriends cried in the public gallery and two of the accused – Captain Neville Eva and Warrant Officer Shane Naidoo – also broke down during the proceedings.
Naidoo was doubled over as he listened to a relative, also a policeman, testify about how his younger brother had died of a heart attack on Tuesday soon after being told of his arrest.
“We ask that he be allowed to go home so that he can go to the funeral and help his mother who is also ill,” Warrant Officer Dean Pillay said.
The prosecutor had only sharp retorts.
“I am sorry for that. Why are you telling us? Have you been informed of why he (Naidoo) is before this court? Do you know the nature of the cases against him?,” Mathenjwa said, to gasps from the public gallery.
Mathenjwa was equally dismissive when Eva – struggling to hold back tears – explained that he had suffered multiple organ failure in January this year because his heart only functioned at 30%.
He said he had been booked off work for six months.
“If I get another infection, I will die. It’s as simple as that. And cells and prisons are not hygienic.”
Mathenjwa retorted: “So they are not clean. What have you done as a police officer to make sure that people you have put there (in cells) have clean toilets?”
The magistrate intervened, telling him to “stick to the facts”.
Mathenjwa insisted while cross-examining Eva that witnesses had already been threatened.
He then called one of the investigating officers, Colonel Frans Khola, who gave evidence regarding an incident in Melmoth, allegedly involving eight of the accused, where a suspect “and a young boy” was killed in front of relatives.
“The family said number three (Warrant Officer Paul Mostert) told them if they told anyone, he would come back and kill them. They live in fear. Ballistics will show that the suspect was killed while he was asleep lying on the floor.
“The family can identify Mostert and the man they call Shane. They identified the others through the photographs which were taken by the policemen after the killing and at the celebration afterwards at the crime scene.”
Khola said this was just the first leg of the investigation and within weeks, the men would be charged with dozens of other murders.
“Crimes were committed in full view of family members. People were killed when cases against them were not properly investigated and when there were no warrants of arrest.
“People were killed when, on the facts in the docket, no warrants would have been issued. A young boy – not even a suspect – was shot while he was sleeping,” he said.
Eva, in his evidence, declined to answer comments on the merits of the case and so far the others have submitted affidavits dealing mainly with their personal circumstances.
All have indicated that they are innocent.
They were held at Durban central police station cells again last night and the bail application will continue this morning. 8P11
Article source: http://www.iol.co.za/drama-at-death-squad-hearing-1.1325727