‘How we caught killers’

2009-04-02 00:00

COMBINED experience of 70 years in the South African Police Service among a team of three policemen was the key to the speedy arrest, conviction and sentencing of Raelin Devnarain’s murderers, Zamo Eric Hadebe and Mzwakhe Lucky Zuma.

In two weeks, which is an extremely fast time in which to wrap up a case, both accused admitted that they bludgeoned Raelin and his mother Predantha to silence their screams while the pair robbed them. For that, Judge Anton Van Zyl sentenced them to life imprisonment.

Mountain Rise serious crimes unit Commander Pipes Haffajee and inspectors Sizwe Makhathini and Vusi Shabangu worked around the clock to nab the two men.

In a case where fingers were pointing in different directions, the team was able to sift through unfounded allegations to follow credible leads and establish concrete evidence to make a conviction.

The serious crimes unit was established in 2007 during the restructuring of the SAPS. This unit deals with property, business and house break-ins, theft of motor vehicles and murder. The Mountain Rise unit has seven detectives.

Haffajee has been in the police force for 35 years and is the commander of the unit. On the Devnarain case, he worked with Makhathini, who has 36 years’ experience, and Shabangu, who has been in the police for 18 years.

Haffajee said since its inception, the unit has achieved a more than 95% success rate on murder cases. He said these cases include old cases that were reopened.

The team took over the Devnarain case on Saturday, March 14, the day after the attack.

On the Friday, uniformed police combed the scene for evidence. On March 14, the case was handed over to the serious crimes unit, who decided to go back to the scene to start their investigation. “Fingers were pointing in all directions. One of the so-called suspects came in and was questioned and released. We decided to go back to the scene and do door-to-door inquiries to pick up the pieces around the area,” said Haffajee.

A critical piece of information that emerged in these interviews was that Hadebe, who did a little gardening work for Predantha, was seen at the house the day before the incident and the day after.

Following that information, Makhathini and Shabangu began a search for Hadebe and his girlfriend, who was also a former employee of Predantha.

“On Saturday, we went to the girlfriend’s sister’s place in Bulwer, but he was not there and was not found in Impendle either.” The search continued overnight, without any luck.

“We came back to search at the girlfriend’s shack in Balhambra Way at 3 am on Sunday, but we were told that he had left the previous evening,” said Makhathini. “We were aware that he would come back for his clothes, so we waited patiently.”

At this stage, said Makhathini, the names of the possible suspect and his associate had been confirmed.

On Sunday evening the team discovered more information about Hadebe. “We discovered that he had a previous case that was pending.”

On Monday, at the request of the police, The Witness published a photograph of Hadebe. “We received numerous calls, people reporting to have seen a person with a similar description. We then received a tip-off that he had been spotted leaving a shack and boarding a taxi. We stopped the taxi and arrested him.”

On Tuesday, another tip-off led to the arrest of the second suspect, Zuma.

“We received a call from Edgars clothing shop, informing us that someone was trying to buy clothes using Devnarain’s card. We went there and found out that it was Zuma’s girlfriend.”

The girlfriend lives in Table Mountain, the area where Devnarain’s car was found.

Haffajee said fingerprints lifted in the stolen car were a positive match to Zuma’s.

On Thursday, March 19, Zuma was arrested in Olympia Way after another tip-off.

The “leg work”, according to Makhathini, had been properly done, leaving the suspects with no option but to confess.

“The key is to do the leg-work, remain transparent and fair to the accused. Our responsibility is to investigate the case and tell the suspect what happened in detail, and the suspect will confess voluntarily.”

Gathering evidence and presenting a “watertight case makes things easy going in court”, said Shabangu.

In the confession process, Haffajee said, the suspects are taken to the district surgeon before and after making a confession to prove that they were not forced. “We do our job, while making sure that the rights of the suspects are not compromised.”

Driven by passion and a love for the job, Haffajee, Makhathini and Shabangu said their satisfaction is realised when the sentence is handed down.

sandilez@witness.co.za

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