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AGE OF THE ASSASSIN

‘Rule with absolute fear’ – organised crime kingpins target witnesses, detectives to deter investigations

‘Rule with absolute fear’ – organised crime kingpins target witnesses, detectives to deter investigations
Informal housing in Imizamo Yethu, Hout Bay, Cape Town. (Photo: Dwayne Senior / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The assassination of witnesses, lawyers and detectives means people are increasingly afraid to speak out about organised crime. In Imizamo Yethu, Hout Bay, police are still trying to find a motive for the recent killing of seven people.

Lizette Lancaster, crime hub manager at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), says many people are afraid to make police statements or testify in court about crimes committed by organised criminal groups out of fear of violent retaliation.

Lancaster’s comments come in the wake of a mass shooting in Imizamo Yethu, Hout Bay, on 27 March. Seven people were killed.

Imizamo residents, including the local Community Policing Forum, are reluctant to comment on speculation that a taxi boss, who is in Pollsmoor Prison, ordered the killing of the seven people.

Police say the motive for the mass killing has not been determined.

According to police spokesperson Colonel Andre Traut, detectives are pursuing leads in a bid to apprehend the suspects.

The shooting took place around 7pm when gunmen opened fire on the occupants of a house in Molokwane Street in Imizamo Yethu.

“Five men aged between 20 and 45 did not survive the onslaught… while five other men were admitted to hospital with serious gunshot wounds. Two of the victims who were admitted to hospital succumbed, bringing the total fatalities to seven,” Traut said.

On Thursday 4 April, a resident, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “I’m aware of the allegations that a taxi boss behind bars ordered the hit. The deceased are said to have refused to pay extortion. If I want to testify in court, the police must place me in a bulletproof box so that I cannot be killed. The entire community is gripped with fear and too scared to make a statement.”

Traut said the motive for the multiple murders has yet to be determined.

Police did not respond to claims that an imprisoned taxi boss ordered the killings.

Major-General Preston Voskuil, the acting provincial commissioner of the Western Cape SAPS, has ordered more police to be deployed in Hout Bay to help investigators get to the bottom of the incident.

Taxi ‘hits’

The mass killings come a month after the murder of constable Masixole Mgaqelwa of Nyanga police station. He was due to testify at the trial of high-profile Cape Town taxi boss Bonke Makalala, who is charged with murder.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Nyanga cop due to testify against Cape Town taxi boss gunned down in apparent hit

Police have also opened a case against Makalala for allegedly impersonating a police officer after he was caught on video driving a police vehicle in July this year.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Two Cape Town cops in the dock for letting taxi boss use police van

Mgaqelwa and another police officer, Yolisa Ngomso, were accused of assisting Makalala in using a police van without permission. Both were released on bail of R2,000, but Mgaqelwa was shot dead before he could testify against Makalala.

In December 2023, police arrested Makalala in the posh Pretoria suburb of Silver Lakes. The taxi boss was wanted in connection with a string of crimes. He is a member of the Cape Amalgamated Taxi Association.

In a separate case, the seven men accused of the 2023 murder in Durban of rapper Kiernan “AKA” Forbes and his friend, businessman Tebello Motsoane, also allegedly have links to the taxi “hitman” industry.

Rule with fear

Lancaster shared her thoughts on why community members were afraid to come forward or give statements to police, emphasising that several factors influenced whether people would report cases, act as witnesses, or testify.

“One of them is fear of retaliation. We’ve seen how some of these highly organised criminal groups and their kingpins even kill attorneys and high-level investigators on their cases. These kingpins and their networks rule with absolute fear,” she explained.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Assassination nation – political contract killings escalate in KZN as hitmen are offered ‘job after job’

Lancaster said the proliferation of organised crime and these types of cases showed how criminal networks had become entrenched.

“They are not limited to one type and are not afraid to use violence. So there is a lot of complexity to this and the solutions are equally complex. However, we must begin by forensically linking guns, strengthening witness protection programmes and ensuring that investigating officers and witnesses receive all necessary support and protection.

“If we don’t, people will either not come forward or be assassinated. We know we have a problem with the availability of hitmen for hire.”

Lawyers and cops targeted

Hits ordered on lawyers and witnesses are nothing new.

Advocate Pete Mihalik was assassinated on 30 October 2018 while dropping his daughter at school in Green Point, Cape Town.

Mihalik’s killers, Sizwe Biyela and Nkosinathi Khumalo – taxi industry hitmen from KwaZulu-Natal – and taxi owner Vuyile Maliti were sentenced to life imprisonment in the Western Cape High Court in August 2023.

The killers of three other lawyers remain free:

  • Noorudien Hassan was shot and killed in his car outside his home in Lansdowne on 7 November 2016. At the time he was representing alleged gang boss Ralph Stanfield.
  • Advocate Vernon Jantjies was shot multiple times in Lentegeur, Mitchell’s Plain, in December 2019. He represented Glenda Bird, the late sister of Fadwaan “Vet” Murphy, a suspected drug kingpin.
  • In May 2019, lawyer David Mbazwana was shot dead at a spaza shop in Khayelitsha in what appeared to be a robbery.

The late Anti-Gang Unit officer Charl Kinnear was assassinated in front of his house in Bishop Lavis on 18 September 2020. At the time, Kinnear was probing alleged underworld figure Nafiz Modack, who is the main accused in the Kinnear murder case currently in the Western Cape High Court.

A hit was also ordered on former Hawks officer Nico Heerschap in July 2019. On the day of the hit, his father, Nicolaas, was reversing out of his driveway in Melkbosstrand when a gunman, who has confessed to the murder, shot and killed him.

At the time of the murder, Nico Heerschap was investigating Modack. He is expected to reveal details about the investigation when he takes the stand in the Western Cape High Court as a State witness.

Organised crime

According to a recent policy brief on South Africa’s rising murder rate, experts believe the entrenchment and growth of organised crime “has played a major role in the increasing number of murders”.

In his introduction to the ISS policy brief, titled Murder Trends in South Africa’s Deadliest Provinces, author David Bruce, an independent researcher, writes: “Among the many distressing problems facing South Africa at the moment is the high level of violent crime.”

Murder, he said, was a serious manifestation of this “scourge”.

According to the most recent crime statistics released by Police Minister Bheki Cele, 7,710 people were murdered in the three months between 1 October and 31 December 2023.

Cele said that of the 268 gang-related murders recorded, 250 were reported in the Western Cape. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Follow the money and his links in the Saps.Houtbay is close to Constantia

  • Mike Lawrie says:

    So just what is wrong with bringing back hanging? Once these criminals are hanged they are in no position to commit another murder.

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      I agree, for murder only – primarily for 2 reasons:
      1. hanging encourages not murdering as the potential price is too high; and
      2. “murder only hanging” does not incentivise criminals murdering to prevent witnesses for non-murder crimes.

    • jcdville stormers says:

      Keeping them alive ,they can budget for him at tax payers expense,and steal the money

  • ag_me_martin says:

    Sadly very sadly from the many different reports across the country where crime and violence is being reported it appears that there are as many SAPS members involved in all sorts of skulduggery as there are common criminals. So there is not much real chance that the fight against crime will be won

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