Cato Manor: A trail of bodies and a ton of lies

01 February 2015 - 02:00 By Stephan Hofstatter, Mzilikazi wa Afrika and Rob Rose

A journalist once found by a court to be responsible for ‘cowardly acts of terror’ is trying his best to discredit the Sunday Times investigations team. Normally we ignore such small fry, but we believe our readers deserve to know the full story. Stephan Hofstatter, Mzilikazi wa Afrika and Rob Rose separate fact from fiction

On September 19 2010 at 6.11pm, Paul Kirk, a journalist in KwaZulu-Natal working for The Citizen newspaper at the time, contacted the Sunday Times with a tip-off for a story.

He painted an extraordinary picture of the provincial head of the Hawks, Johan Booysen, as thoroughly evil and corrupt.

"Booysen was murder and robbery. Durban M&R used to make a fortune, shooting dead bank robbers and keeping 50% of the recovered cash." Booysen had been "to Australia on holiday a few times, paid for by an oke called Panday whose company does lie detector tests for police", said Kirk. "Just look at his assets and compare them to his salary."

Kirk had apparently pitched his story to The Citizen, but no one was interested.

Kirk ended with a warning: "Be careful of Booysen though. People think [former police chief Bheki] Cele is dangerous, you ain't seen nothing yet."

We told Kirk that we were already investigating extrajudicial killings allegedly committed by Booysen's men, and didn't end up relying on any of his information.

More than a year later, in December 2011, the Sunday Timespublished an exposé detailing evidence of an alleged "hit squad" that operated "under the ultimate command" of Booysen.

Kirk never objected to the story. In fact, he contacted the Sunday Times two days later with further tip-offs. "Mossie is the one you need to look at," he said in a Skype message, referring to Paul Mostert, who goes on trial this month charged with several counts of murder. In one case, Mostert "allegedly took R40000 from the victim's family in order to shoot the suspect dead", said Kirk.

The Sunday Times story led to an investigation by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid), which eventually concluded that there was sufficient evidence to charge Booysen and 27 police officials, mostly from the Cato Manor organised crime unit, for charges including racketeering and 28 counts of murder.

Three months later, for reasons known only to himself, Kirk made a dramatic about-turn. Instead of pursuing the leads against Booysen that he'd pitched to The Citizen and the Sunday Times, he wrote a series of articles in Noseweek claiming that we'd got our facts wrong.

With the apparent wave of a magic wand, Booysen was transformed from villain to hero.

In this account, Booysen had been the innocent victim all along of a conspiracy hatched by politically connected crooks he was investigating - including provincial police chief Mmamonnye Ngobeni and businessman Thoshan Panday, a crony of President Jacob Zuma's son Edward.

Suddenly, this newspaper had been "manipulated by criminals" for chasing the very same story Kirk wanted to do himself and kept urging us to pursue. He conveniently forgot to mention that we thoroughly exposed the alleged corrupt dealings of Panday in a front-page story.

Kirk's campaign to rubbish the stories gained momentum when Booysen won a high court application to have the charges of racketeering and murder against him thrown out, even though we had simply called him the ultimate head of a unit allegedly committing extrajudicial killings.

His latest effort, published this week, was headlined "Cato Manor: Sunday Times places its final bet". Once again, exonerating Booysen appears to be the main aim of his article. He declares that Booysen was our "primary target", and uses the fact that criminal charges against him were dropped and his temporary victory in his disciplinary case as evidence that we "got it wrong".

On this occasion, his particular focus is the case of taxi operator Bongani Mkhize, who was gunned down in broad daylight on Umgeni Road in Durban on February 3 2009.

Months earlier, Mkhize had obtained a court interdict to prevent the police from killing him after Cato Manor unit detectives killed seven suspects in a murder case they had linked him to.

Kirk makes much of the copious "evidence" he claims to have dug up on Mkhize by spending two years "laboriously researching his criminal history". This portrays Mkhize as a dangerous thug who employed his nephew Swayo Mkhize as his "most favoured hit man" whose confession implicated the taxi boss in the murder of former cop and friend of Zuma, Inkosi Mbongeleni Zondi. Kirk's clincher is that it wasn't even Cato Manor unit members who killed Mkhize.

Let's get some facts straight

- We interviewed two witnesses who told us they had seen a Cato Manor unit member finish off Mkhize in his stationary car.

This was after national intervention and Cato Manor unit members riddled it with bullets in what they claimed was an exchange of fire while driving. Kirk even concedes the murder docket against the Cato Manor unit includes "a recently commissioned statement from a newly found eyewitness saying that a tall Indian policeman was seen to walk up and execute Mkhize".

He then goes on to quote one of the murder accused who claims "whoever took that statement clearly gave it to the Sunday Times to smear us". Kirk uses this as "evidence" that we got it wrong - even though we have never referred to a witness statement, simply to our own interviews with witnesses.

- An internal National Prosecuting Authority memo from 2012 states that "there are eyewitnesses in this matter but (they are) very fearful because they have been told by Durban ICD (Independent Complaints Directorate) that if they give statement(s) they would have to be placed in witness protection programme(s) and leave their businesses and families".

- The same memo points out that "the only evidence linking Mkhize to Zondi's docket was a confession of one Swayo Mkhize who says the deceased was part of the meeting planning to kill Inkosi Zondi". But Swayo was killed before his confession could be tested in court. "Therefore when Bongani Mkhize was waylaid by police, there was no evidence upon which he was being pursued," says the memo Kirk evidently failed to dig up.

- Mkhize's family won a civil suit against the police last May for his unlawful death because the state caved in rather than risk having the cops who killed him be subjected to cross-examination in open court.

They were named in court as Cato Manor members Gonasagren Padayachee, Adriaan Stolz, Raymond Christopher Lee, and NIU members Thomas Dlamuka and Stanley Mfene. All admit in sworn statements to shooting at Mkhize's car. Lee appears without a shirt in the picture of the Cato Manor team's post-kill celebration. The police wanted to postpone the civil case until after the murder trial so that the shooters wouldn't incriminate themselves.

Judge Gregory Kruger found their reasoning mind-boggling. "If they enter the witness box and tell the truth, how on earth can they incriminate themselves?"

None of these facts made it into Kirk's seven-page hatchet job - which he then used to justify his claim that we are dishonest and corrupt. Days after his article appeared, Kirk publicly stated that we'd been bribed to write the stories.

"Almost every word in the 'death squad' exposé is a shameless lie," he said. "Had the three stooges not been in [former crime intelligence head] Richard Mdluli's pay they would not have written this story."

Needless to say, Kirk could provide no evidence for this because it simply isn't true.

Kirk and Noseweek editor Martin Welz appear to hold a particular grudge against Wa Afrika, even though the story was investigated and written by the entire investigative unit. They fabricated an interview that Wa Afrika supposedly had with Noseweek, and also falsely claimed that members of crime intelligence, reporting to their suspended boss, Mdluli, had handed Wa Afrika photos of suspects shot dead by the unit. In fact, Hofstatter had obtained the photos from a source with no links to Mdluli or Panday.

They repeatedly singled out Wa Afrika in their attacks on social media. Kirk called him a "liar" and "a criminal". Welz gatecrashed Wa Afrika's book launch in Cape Town and demanded that he answer questions about Booysen. Wa Afrika told him to wait for the trial. The following day, Welz tried to heckle him at the Open Book Festival, where Wa Afrika was a guest speaker.

Yet, it's Kirk himself who, several years ago, was found by a judge to be a liar and a "coward" who planted fake evidence to falsely implicate someone in fictitious crimes. In 2003, Kruger, the high court judge, awarded damages and a punitive costs order against Kirk for trying to impress a girl by intimidating a manager at Independent Newspapers who'd instituted disciplinary proceedings against her. Kirk spread false rumours that the manager was taking drugs; planted drugs, bullets and a teargas canister at his house; chained and padlocked his gate; and fired a bullet through the window of his baby's nursery.

Despite relentlessly attacking our credibility as journalists, Kirk repeatedly breaks one of the golden rules of journalism: always ask the people you are writing nasty things about for their side of the story before going to print.

In the three years that Kirk has been writing about us, he has not done so once.

It is worth noting that the Sunday Times has done its best to grant every person we have written about in our Cato Manor investigation a right of reply.

To date, not a single entity or person, including Booysen, has lodged a complaint against us, nor have we received any threats of legal action, summons, or even a letter to the editor from any of the parties involved. In fact, only Ipid wrote us a letter complaining that the propaganda campaign being waged by the supporters of Booysen and the Cato Manor officials flew in the face of factual evidence gathered.

Let the real trial begin so the facts can speak for themselves.

KIRK'S CLAIM:

Booysen was "a particular target of the Sunday Times exposé". His suspension was the "malicious" intention of the Sunday Times all along.

THE FACTS:

The newspaper investigated suspicious killings at the hands of several detectives based at the Cato Manor section of the Durban organised crime unit. We did not directly implicate Booysen in the killings other than as the "ultimate commander" of the Cato Manor unit. Several of those detectives had come a long way with Booysen, serving under him from 2002 until he was promoted to provincial Hawks boss in 2010. The decision to charge Booysen was taken by Ipid after it had done its own investigation. The detectives will go on trial for murder this month.

KIRK'S CLAIM:

Booysen was "exonerated" by the high court, which proves the Sunday Times had maliciously targeted him in the first place.

THE FACTS:

Leaving aside the logical flaws of this argument, Judge Trevor Gorven ruled that none of the evidence that prosecutions boss Nomgcobo Jiba relied on to prosecute Booysen linked him to the offences he was charged with. But Gorven stressed that Booysen wasn't entirely off the hook, and declined to grant his wish to interdict the NPA from charging him again. "It is important to note that the above findings do not amount to a finding that Mr Booysen is not guilty of the offences ... That can only be decided by way of criminal trial." Last September, Booysen was cleared of disciplinary charges for failing to act against the Cato Manor unit. The Labour Court will review that decision later this year.

KIRK'S CLAIM:

The Sunday Times was tipped off by Panday and cronies of Mdluli in a bid to "smear" their accusers. Noseweek said the Sunday Times's story was "based almost exclusively on the package [of information] they had been sold by a certain Thoshan Panday".

THE FACTS:

As this article makes clear, one of the earliest tip-offs we got was from Kirk, the Noseweek journalist who is now making these claims. The first tip-off was from a senior police officer in Gauteng with no connection to Panday or Mdluli.

The newspaper subsequently interviewed the families of those killed, many of whom were present at the shootings; four independent witnesses to the killings, and numerous other police officers, some close to the unit members accused of murder. The photographs and videos we printed alongside these stories, while not all related to the Cato Manor incidents, were not provided by Panday, as Noseweek claimed, or anyone linked to Panday or Mdluli.

KIRK'S CLAIM:

Noseweek said Mkhize, the taxi driver who was killed after going to court to get an interdict to prevent the police from killing him, was not shot by the Cato Manor organised crime unit. This was the central thrust of Noseweek's seven-page story this month.

THE FACTS:

The police's own entry made at Durban central police station on February 3 2009 states: "There was a shootout between [Mkhize] and members of the organised crime unit that were working jointly with members of the national intervention unit." This is confirmed in sworn statements. This newspaper interviewed two witnesses who saw a member of the Cato Manor unit finish off Mkhize. The docket contains a statement to this effect.

KIRK'S CLAIM:

The Sunday Times articles on the Cato Manor unit were essentially bogus, the result of manipulation by "criminals" including Mdluli and Panday.

THE FACTS:

The trail of bodies, which accounts for 28 murder charges, speaks for itself. The arrests happened after Ipid did its own investigation, including into cases and witnesses this newspaper had no sight of, before deciding to press charges.

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