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SAPS IN CRISIS

The horrific legacy of South Africa’s gun-smuggling cops – murder, depression, anxiety and trauma

The horrific legacy of South Africa’s gun-smuggling cops – murder, depression, anxiety and trauma
Shamielah Eksteen, the mother of a police officer, was murdered in Manenberg in 2014. (Photo: Supplied)

The class action lawsuit that is shaping up in the Western Cape, for families of those murdered and wounded with cop-smuggled firearms, has revealed layers of trauma and tragedy that statistics never convey. Here we focus on those stories.

A class action lawsuit aimed at holding police bosses to account, for crimes committed with guns that cops smuggled to gangsters, is revealing the ongoing and unimaginably deep trauma those corrupt acts have caused.

Beyond murder and attempted murder statistics are families and individuals struggling to cope.

Lives beyond court papers

This week Jason Whyte of the law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, which is dealing with the class action pro bono, speaking at a briefing in Cape Town, said it was easy to overlook that such cases involved real lives.

The lawsuit, though, changes that.

It hinges on Project Impi – South Africa’s biggest firearm smuggling investigation – that led to the arrest of Chris Prinsloo, now a former police colonel who confessed to selling firearms, meant to have been destroyed, to others. 

Former policeman Chris Prinsloo. (Photo: Gallo Images / Die Burger)

Some ended up with gangsters in South Africa’s gangsterism capital, the Western Cape.

In 2016 Prinsloo was convicted, but in the same year Project Impi collapsed, and some investigators claimed South African Police Service bosses decimated it.

Read in Daily Maverick: Bullet points – this is what drove victims of cop-smuggled firearms to launch a lawsuit against police

According to Project Impi investigations, about 2,000 cop-smuggled firearms could be linked to the shooting of 261 children, as well as 1,666 murders, and 1,403 attempted murders.

Nine affected individuals linked to those statistics are now part of the class action lawsuit.

Gun Free South Africa (GFSA) is driving the proceedings, in which damages will be sought from cop bosses.

The application for the class action to be certified was lodged in the Western Cape High Court on 9 May 2023.

This included a founding affidavit by GFSA’s director Adèle Kirsten and nine supporting affidavits by survivors of gunshot wounds, or the families of those killed.

Here we focus on those nine affidavits, which get to the heart of the legal proceedings.

Yolande Baker and Adèle Kirsten of Gun Free South Africa talk about a class action lawsuit representing Western Cape families of those murdered and wounded with cop-smuggled firearms. It is believed the number of applicants in the case may grow. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

Children caught in crossfire

Evenlyn Davids, in her affidavit, said she was a legal guardian to Liam Davids.

He was playing outside in the suburb of Hanover Park in 2012 when two people opened fire on each other.

Liam, who was seven at the time, was shot in the neck, while the other child Leanna van Wyk, six, was wounded in the head.

Davids said following the shooting Liam later dropped out of school and was unemployed – “I am of the view that this was a direct result of the shooting and the trauma caused by it.”

Meanwhile, in an affidavit of his own, Van Wyk’s brother Bradley said the children were wounded during a fight between two factions of a gang.

He said Van Wyk had undergone several operations and experienced many medical issues including memory and sight loss, limited speech and learning difficulties.

‘I wanted to hug him’

Dianne Cornelius, in her affidavit, said she was inside her Manenberg home on 13 August 2013 preparing for her family braai.

Her son Dillon, 16, was home for the weekend from the town of Vredendal where he went to school.

“He was just about to walk out the door to join one of his friends, when I asked him for a hug before he left,” Cornelius recalled.

“He told me he would be right back and would hug me afterwards. He then walked out the door.”

Cornelius’s husband Andre picked up the story in his affidavit.

A braai and bullets

He said he was making a fire for the family braai when he heard gunshots and saw someone running.

He realised it was Dillon who had been wounded.

“At this point, he was still alive, and I stayed with him until the police and fire and rescue teams arrived… I then travelled with my son in the ambulance to the hospital,” Andre recalled.

Dillon died at the hospital.

Andre suffered considerably after the murder.

He said Dillon was his only son – “I had tried to do all I could for my son to keep him out of harm’s way. I had even sent him to a school in Vredendal as a means to avoid the gang activity in Manenberg.”

A hero shot nine times

Niezaam Cupido, in his affidavit, said that on 5 or 6 March 2013 he was playing outside his home in Mitchells Plain when he decided to go to a nearby shop to get snacks. 

While at the shop, gunmen arrived looking for a man who was apparently a Mongrels gang member.

They opened fire.

“I pushed several children inside the store out of range of the gunmen,” Cupido’s affidavit said.

He tried to run to safety with a 12-year-old girl who was shot.

“The gunmen chased me out of the shop. I recognised one of the gunmen who was wearing a police vest as my friend’s cousin who I knew to belong to the Farm Boys gang,” Cupido said.

“I was then shot nine times.” 

Gunmen followed him to hospital

Cupido was taken to a day hospital in the area before being transferred to Groote Schuur Hospital in the suburb of Observatory.

“The gunmen followed me to the hospital after the ambulance arrived to collect me to ensure that I was dead but the police presence at the hospital kept them at bay.”

Cupido could not look after himself following the shooting and found that walking to school was too painful.

He experienced “extreme pain” daily, and dropped out of school before he could complete Grade 9.

Cupido’s mother lost her job around that time because she repeatedly took time off to care for him.

Before the shooting Cupido enjoyed playing the drums and teaching children music, but he can no longer do that.

Cupido sometimes still has nightmares and suffers from abdominal pain.

Double murder

Melanie Kiel said, in her affidavit, that her son Dudley Richards was murdered in Mitchells Plain in 2013.

He had been walking along a street with a friend when four gunmen opened fire – Richards’s friend was killed and as Richards tried to run away, he was shot in the arm and head.

“Despite being the youngest and having… dropped out of school in Grade Seven, Dudley nonetheless worked at the local taxi rank, and used his income to contribute towards the household expenses,” Kiel said.

She struggled financially and was unemployed for a long time after her son’s murder as she suffered from “poor mental health, emotional shock, and depression”.

Melanie Kiel (left) wept as she said her son Dudley was murdered in a shooting in 2013. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

‘They returned to shoot more’

Simone Julies, in her affidavit, explained that in October 2014 she had been walking along an alley in Mitchells Plain with her two young sons, Mogamat Nazeer and Mogamat Moeneer.

As they crossed a street a car approached and a gunman in the passenger seat started shooting.

Julies was carrying Mogamat Nazeer who was wounded in his back near his lungs, while Mogamat Moeneer was wounded in the leg.

A third child, who tried to help Julies and the two boys, was also wounded.

“The car left the alley and then returned to shoot some more,” Julies said. 

“There were people who I understand were members of the Americans gang in the alley, who were the likely intended targets.”

Mogamat Moeneer was discharged from hospital on the day of the shooting.

His brother Mogamat Nazeer was more seriously wounded.

A miracle

“He was placed in a coma following the operation to assess the extent of his injuries,” Julies said in her affidavit.

“The doctors had initially wanted to switch off his machines, but Mogamat Nazeer miraculously woke up from the coma.”

He was not able to walk for a while, but physiotherapy had helped.

“My sons and I never had the opportunity to go for counselling despite very clearly needing psychological help,” Julies said.

“[They] still react very strongly and experience a high level of fear and anxiety upon hearing gunshots or similar sounds.”

Julies was her household’s breadwinner and could not work for a long time following the shooting because she had to care for Mogamat Nazeer.

She said that two detectives had approached her after the shooting and when she later tried to find out what had since happened to the case, she was told the docket had been “lost”. 

The cop, the brother and murdered mother

Mansoer Eksteen, of the Cape Town suburb of Manenberg, recalled that on 13 October 2014 he was shot at “point blank range” in his chest while standing in the front yard.

“After I collapsed, my mother, who was 71 years old at the time, was shot and killed inside our home by the same attacker,” Eksteen said.

“I was rushed to hospital… Whilst I remained in hospital, my mom was buried. The fact that I never got the chance to attend her funeral and to properly pay my respects to her haunts me to this day.”

Eksteen said after he was shot he heard the gunman had been after his brother – Lutfie Eksteen, a police officer who, at the time, was part of Operation Combat, a project aimed at tackling gangsterism.

Eksteen said the incident altered his life dramatically – he was involved in carpentry but due to his injuries could no longer do that full time.

He also experienced anxiety, depression and trouble sleeping. 

A killed breadwinner and terminal cancer

On 25 January 2015 Natalie Dirks and her husband (who has since died) were standing in their kitchen in their Mitchells Plain home when a gun was fired several times outside.

“My son [Lukas Dirks, 18] had been sitting on the pavement with two friends, playing with dogs,” she said in her affidavit.

All three had been shot.

Lukas died in an ambulance on the way to hospital.

“My son had finished school and had been a breadwinner for the family during the year preceding his death,” Dirks said.

“I was unemployed at the time and my late husband was in hospice care due to a terminal cancer diagnosis.”

After the shooting, Dirks’s family suffered from depression and anxiety. 

She experienced such extreme insomnia she chose to work night shifts.  DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.

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