Monday, March 12, 2012
Facebook funding for 'hit squad'
Facebook funding for 'hit squad'
NIVASHNI NAIR | 12 March, 2012 00:13
Members of the Cato Manor organised crime unit celebrate just hours after allegedly killing five robbery suspects on the N3 highway near Camperdown on January 21 2009
Facebook users, many claiming to be victims of crimes solved by Durban's disbanded Organised Crime Unit, have donated thousands of rands towards the alleged hit squad's legal fees.
The group has been slammed for being "insensitive" to the families of those allegedly killed by the unit.
The group - Durban Organised Crime Unit KZN - was created by Penny Katz two weeks ago.
Katz yesterday said that a trust to raise funds for th e police officers' legal battle against their suspensions has been launched and R37800 has been donated so far.
"It is indeed heart-warming to see that people have donated money to support police officers that some may have not even met. I know that the money will make a difference," Katz said.
Katz said she started the Facebook group because she wanted to "show the unit that I am forever grateful to them".
"A family member was a victim of crime. It was only after the Cato Manor unit took over the matter that the perpetrator was brought to book. I felt that I had to do something to show them my support."
The Sunday Times reported in December how the controversial Cato Manor's serious and violent crimes unit, under the command of suspended KwaZulu-Natal Hawks boss Major-General Johan Booysen, operated as an alleged hit squad, with witnesses claiming they "executed" suspects and then held booze-fuelled parties.
A picture published by the newspaper shows members of the unit celebrating after allegedly killing a suspect, with the victim's wife next to them while they celebrate.
At least about 51 suspicious killings have been linked to the so-called Cato Manor "hit squad". The unit has since been suspended.
Senior police officers yesterday raised concerns about the financial support the Cator Manor officers were getting from the Facebook group.
Those who spoke to The Times said this might send a wrong message to the community.
One officer said the donations were becoming a "hot potato" for police leadership.
"These donations might send a message that as long as police kill criminals they will be supported, and in this case it's even worse because most of the victims are black while those alleged to have killed them are white.
"The donations might be viewed in other sections of our community as insensitive," the officer said.
Since the Sunday Times exposed the unit's alleged crimes, communities have asked for government intervention.
Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa and political parties have demanded answers about the police unit.
The Independent Complaints Directorate, which was expected to have investigated the killings, has been slammed. This led to its head of investigations in KwaZulu-Natal being suspended last month.
According to Facebook statistics, the group is mentioned on the social networking site at least 500 times a day. The supporters are aged between 35 and 44 and mostly live in Durban.
Katz said the group's wall spoke for itself.
"People out there support these officers despite what has been said because most of the people in the group have been victims or know victims of crimes that were solved by the unit.
"Yes, there are people who hate them and are outraged but I think there are more people that support them."
Booysen and 10 officers were served with notices informing them of possible suspensions.
Booysen won an interdict preventing the Hawks from carrying out his suspension while the 10 officers, through lawyer Carl van der Merwe, have written to the state demanding to know the reasons for the proposed suspensions.
Katz said the disbanded unit was aware of the group.
"They all know about the group and are aware that we are raising funds. The money is going straight into their lawyer's account. It is going to no one else. The police officers have informed me that when they have bad days, they are inspired by the support of the group," she said.
One of the 10 officers said he was surprised by the support