Echoes of Apartheid: tales of death, cover-up in Cato Manor police squad
This investigation, screened as a documentary on Al Jazeera called ‘Echoes of Apartheid’, shows how practices everybody thought had been eradicated have survived deep into SA’s democracy.
At 9.45pm on March 11 1992, Johan Booysen received a call from an informer who told him a dangerous criminal who had just escaped from custody had been spotted.
Vuzi Nkwanyana had allegedly admitted to murdering a man during a house robbery at Umlazi near Durban a month earlier, and was also wanted for an armed robbery, raping a woman and the attempted murder of two policemen.
Nkwanyana was spotted in Malagaza township not far from Booysen’s house in Amanzimtoti on KwaZulu-Natal’s South Coast.
Booysen, then a captain in the Durban murder and robbery squad, called Lieutenant Willie Olivier, who lived nearby. They had known each other since Booysen was a constable at the local police station when he enlisted in 1977 and Olivier was his sergeant. When both were made detectives they became close friends.
Now Olivier was attached to the specialised housebreaking unit at the Rossburgh offices in Durban South that worked informally with Booysen’s squad.
Taking two constables as backup, Booysen and Olivier went to arrest Nkwanyana.
They found him sitting with a group of men in a VW Kombi parked outside a house. Booysen and Olivier dragged him out of the Kombi towards their car.
They corroborate each other in their statements on what happened next.
Nkwanyana suddenly punched Booysen in the face, causing him to lose his grip on his suspect. Then he heard Olivier shouting: “F*k, Johan, hy is los! [F**k, Johan, he has escaped!]” Booysen and Olivier fired eight shots at Nkwanyana, fatally wounding him.
A postmortem and ballistics report found Nkwanyana was shot in the back while fleeing.
Veteran detective Frank Dutton investigated the shooting for the Goldstone Commission (read the report here).
Dutton is credited with exposing a “third force” in political violence during the dying days of apartheid that led to Vlakplaas death squad commander Eugene de Kock being jailed. He headed the investigations team of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, was a top UN investigator of massacres in the former Yugoslavia, and founded the Scorpions.
Dutton was scathing of the police investigation into Nkwanyana’s shooting. He found Nkwanyana was shot him in the back “at a very close range”, and that “absolutely no attempt was made” to trace or interview independent witnesses at the scene. Olivier and Booysen were effectively investigating themselves.
The statements of the constables at the scene were recorded by Olivier, “a possible suspect in this case”, said Dutton.
He described this as “outrageous ”. Dutton berated the investigating officer for relying on Booysen, “a possible suspect, [to] make important witnesses available to him”.
Dutton declined to be interviewed about the case this week.
In 2001, Booysen became head of the province’s newly formed serious and violent crimes unit. Its Durban branch at Cato Manor was staffed with close associates, including Olivier, whom he made section commander.
He appointed Eugene van Tonder and Anton Lockem, whom he knew from the murder and robbery squad, as group commanders. Van Tonder had worked with Olivier in the Rossburgh housebreaking unit.
Another prominent Cato Manor member, Paul “Mossie” Mostert, had been in the firearms unit, which had worked informally with Booysen’s murder and robbery squad.
Mostert, with his firearms background, is suspected of being a key player in planting handguns with filed-off serial numbers next to dead suspects.
Together these four men close to Booysen are linked to dozens of suspect shootings over the years. Between 2007 and 2011, they were involved in 18 suspect shootings that led to 28 deaths, often pulling the trigger themselves.
Mostert, according to sworn statements, pulled the trigger in 15 of these deaths.
In just six weeks in 2008, the Cato Manor squad killed five leaders of one taxi association and one of their bodyguards in four suspect shootings. Within a year they had killed its chairman, Bongani Mkhize. The same four men in Booysen’s inner circle were linked to most of these shootings, too. Initial investigations into the shootings exhibited the kinds of irregularities Dutton had picked up in his probe into the shooting of Nkwanyana .
The shooting of 15-year-old schoolboy Kwazi Ndlovu is a telling example.
The Cato Manor officers burst into the wrong house in Esikhawini on the North Coast looking for an escaped convict. They claim Ndlovu, who had fallen asleep on the couch after watching TV with his dad, was shot dead after he had pointed a gun at them.
But sworn statements and official reports reveal several suspicious inconsistencies.
A crime scene expert from the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) was unable to take fingerprints from the gun next to Ndlovu, because it had been “handled by many police at the scene”.
A pathology report reveals the position of Ndlovu’s body was “not reconciliable with the usual position adopted in firing a weapon”. He was likely to have been shot and to have died while “in a relaxed position”.
The Cato Manor officers told Ipid investigators who arrived at the scene they couldn’t interview the detective who shot Ndlovu as he’d been “rushed to hospital” — even though no shots had been fired at him.
In an echo of Nkwanyana’s 1992 shooting, all sworn statements by Cato Manor officers, including Mostert and Olivier, were taken by Cato Manor officials themselves
In previous interviews Booysen defended his men, pointing out that they investigated dangerous criminals and boasted a high arrest rate.
He also said that in most of the cases that led to charges against them the state had declined to prosecute after inquest magistrates had found no wrongdoing and that no credible new evidence had been found to justify reopening them. This included Ndlovu’s death, he said.
But new ballistics and pathology reports and witness statements gathered by investigators and seen by the Sunday Times provide strong evidence against many of the 27 Cato Manor officers expected to go on trial next year, including the four closest to Booysen.
The Sunday Times have also interviewed four witnesses who are too afraid to co-operate with prosecutors. They provided detailed accounts of seeing the Cato Manor members execute suspects, identifying members of Booysen’s inner circle as responsible for two of these deaths. This is in addition to several family members present at shootings, who put Booysen’s confidants at the scene of another six fatal shootings.
Lawyer Carl van der Merwe said his clients — Booysen, Olivier, Mostert, Van Tonder and Lockem — declined to be interviewed.
“There won’t be any interviews granted,” he said.
Booysen was “not prepared to be interviewed because the case is pending. He’s possibly going to be involved as a witness for the defence".
Watch the Al Jazeera documentary 'Echoes of Apartheid' here