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Sunday Times STLive By SHANAAZ EGGINGTON, 2012-03-25

NPA conduct concerns watchdog

SLOW GRIND: Sidwel Mkwambi's sister, Nopinki, is relieved that the police members who allegedly caused his death will finally be charged, but bemoans the slow pace of the investigation into his death Picture: ESA ALEXANDER
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IT took more than three years and several prosecutors for the National Prosecuting Authority to act against an elite police unit linked to a gruesome death and more than 30 cases of assault and torture in the Western Cape.

Sidwel Mkwambi, 24, died of multiple blunt trauma to the head, chest, legs and feet. Two postmortem examinations found his death inconsistent with police claims that he had jumped from a moving vehicle after his arrest on February 9 2009.

Twelve members of the Hawks' priority crime investigation unit, which deals with prominent cases such as crime syndicates, ATM bombings and hijackings, will finally be charged over his death.

They had all been based at Bellville South police station in Cape Town.

The charges will include kidnapping, assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm (torture), attempted murder and murder.

The Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD), South Africa's police watchdog, sent a report to both the police and the NPA urging them to charge 14 members of the unit shortly after Mkwambi's death.

He had been a suspect in the shooting and wounding of police officers parked in their vehicles.

ICD spokesman Moses Dlamini said: "We are extremely concerned that it has taken such a long time to make a decision on whether to prosecute or not. Justice delayed is justice denied.

"We are also concerned that only some will face charges, instead of the 14 we recommended. As far as we are concerned, there is strong evidence against all 14 members.

"It would be interesting to know why the other two are not charged. We will only know once we receive formal correspondence from the NPA, including the final indictment."

The ICD is also investigating 51 murder cases against the disbanded Cato Manor organised crime unit after a series of Sunday Times exposés.

The Sunday Times has now established that the NPA was reluctant to have members of the Cape Town unit arrested and initially planned to summons them to appear in court.

In a development linked to the Mkwambi case, the ICD has unearthed many more cases, dating from 2006 to 2010, in which members of the same unit stand accused of acts of torture.

Dlamini said: "Initially there were 18 cases that were brought to our attention. This has now increased to 33.

"Five members charged in the Mkwambi case are implicated in some of the other cases. We have completed investigations in most of these cases as well, and some have been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions to demonstrate a clear pattern.

"We expected that the [director] would give us guidance on the matter, especially on whether these cases should be linked to the Mkwambi case. But so far we've had no feedback."

The cases include one of a suspect who was allegedly tortured for three days with a tyre tube and a belt.

Eric Ntabazalila, an NPA spokesman, said policy prohibited "comments about the state of an investigation, or a decision to prosecute or not, prior to any of the affected parties being informed of such a decision".

Asked if those charged would be suspended, Hawks spokesman Mcintosch Polela said yesterday the Hawks would act at the right time. "We cannot act on 'plans' to do something."

He referred the Sunday Times to the ICD.

eggingtons@sundaytimes.co.za