Torture charges drawn up against Hawks members

It has taken almost three years for action to be taken against 14 Cape Town members of the Hawks—the country’s priority crimes unit—who were accused by the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) of being involved in 18 cases of torture, which in one case is alleged to have caused the death of a suspect.

But the regional national prosecuting authority (NPA) told the Mail & Guardian that an indictment against them would be finalised this week.

The police officers implicated were members of the former organised crime unit in Bellville South, which now falls under the Hawks.

Torture methods allegedly included handcuffing suspects’ hands behind their backs before pulling plastic bags over their heads, threatening them with suffocation, pulling inner tubes over their faces, and hitting, kicking and slapping them.

Some of those accused have been linked to the murder of Sidwell Mkwambi, a 24-year-old New Crossroads resident allegedly tortured to death and driven to the mortuary in a police van. Police are alleged to have tried to cover up Mkwambi’s death by claiming he had jumped from a moving vehicle.

The provincial organised crime unit at the time of Mkwambi’s alleged murder in 2009 fell under the command of top investigator Piet Viljoen, now a senior Hawks member.

Mkwambi’s sister, Mildred Nopinki, alleged in an interview with the M&G that Viljoen had visited her home in search of her brother after two policemen were shot in New Crossroads.

Nopinki claimed police later arrested Mkwambi and a friend, Siyabulela Njova.
In a statement to police, Njova alleged he saw unit members dragging a “limp” Mkwambi down a passage at the offices of the organised crime unit.

“We were waiting to hear from the office of the national director of public prosecutions [last week] on who they were going to prosecute in these cases, but we have not heard anything from them yet,” said the spokesperson for the Independent Complaints Directorate, Moses Dlamini.

Two years ago, sources close to the case told the M&G the decision about whether to prosecute had been delayed because many advocates in the NPA work closely with the Hawks and the cases were passed from “advocate to advocate”.

There were fears that other cases in court may have to be reviewed if one of the implicated Hawks members were to have obtained a confession from the accused.

But Eric Ntabazalila, spokesperson for the Western Cape NPA, said the cases were complicated, both “legally and factually”.

“It has multiple accused persons. We have been busy consulting with witnesses, and in particular, the principal witness,” he said.

Ntabazalila said the prosecution team had now been identified.

Glynnis Underhill

Glynnis Underhill

Glynnis Underhill has been in journalism for more years than she cares to remember. She loves a good story as much now as she did when she first started. The only difference is today she hopes she is giving something back to the country. Read more from Glynnis Underhill

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