Cele: I’d serve in the trenches with Cato Manor’s Booysen

2012-04-18 09:35

Suspended police commissioner Bheki Cele has defended the controversial Cato Manor crime unit and its embattled head Major General Johan Booysen.

In an interview with City Press, Cele said he would serve in the trenches with Booysen who is fighting his suspension from the police amid allegations that he had failed to act on allegations that police officers under his command had committed acts of misconduct.

“I found Cato Manor there. It was not created by me. I worked closely with Cato Manor police including Booysen. I have a good relationship with Booysen. He is one policeman who is doing a good job. Booysen is one policeman who is doing his job and I would be with him in many trenches to do the job with him (if I were not suspended),” said Cele.

Cele stressed that he was not defending any legitimate probe into wrongdoing by either the unit or Booysen, adding that the unit, which has been disbanded, was tasked with priority crimes such as investigations into taxi violence in the province.

He was at pains to distance himself from repeated reports that he had instructed police officers to “shoot to kill”, saying he never uttered these words.

“Cato Manor unit lived and survived on two issues. It’s the taxi violence in the province and two, the violent nature of crime in the province. It’s given that Gauteng leads and KwaZulu-Natal follows then you would expect some approach that equals the ... reality on the ground.”

Booysen, the Hawks boss in KwaZulu-Natal is challenging the police’s intention to suspend him in court, while a high-level police probe into the unit is under way.

Cele questioned why human rights were not used to defend police officers who defended themselves against armed criminals.

“I was tortured (during apartheid) because I was fighting for human rights when it was not fashionable to be on the side of human rights. Many of us took a lot of nonsense and there are people who were there quiet about our human rights.

“In all human rights that I fought for, I did not come across a human right of being a criminal.

“I did not come across a human right of taking somebody’s life. Those things that I was not told were human rights I will make sure they do not prevail. The difference is that if you go to all funerals (of police officers killed in the line of duty) I attended I see these things. Police must remember that they are policing within the human rights culture.

“That Cato Manor unit maybe understood that message too well. A few weeks before I was suspended I went to bury a member of that unit. I was there. One guy is still in hospital even today. So it gives you a lot of insight. If you don’t go to these funerals to the families of people who have lost loved ones you will only talk nonsense,” said Cele.

He emphasised that while a certain sector of society complained of police brutality, police officers had to deal with and confront heavily armed criminals who planned to stop anyone, including police, who stand in their way.

“If you read the newspaper about a policeman being gunned down ... I was there after they were killed, to wash their blood, to pick up dead bodies and I was there to put the coffin down,” said Cele.

“When (criminals in the township plan cash-in-transit heists) they come prepared. They steal or hijack a car.

They don’t steal a 1.3 or a 1.6 litre. If they haven’t been lucky they get a Golf 5 GTI, BMW 3 series or a Mercedes 250 and 350C and they bring guns. The part of planning a heist involves eliminating whoever stands in their way. When police are shot in the cash heist or robbery it was not a mistake, criminals planned to shoot there.

“Now what do I tell policemen and women who were not part of the (criminals’) planning? I can’t tell policemen that these criminals carry feather dusters, brooms and sticks. They will dust you. The maximum human right is life itself. If you suspect that you may die in the crossfire should I tell them ‘please lay your lives down’? It’s a question of protecting police that you should remind them every day that they must prevail when the chips are down.”

Cele also spoke about how he used to hate the police with a passion. He recounted numerous incidents where he was detained, assaulted, kicked in his genitals and even escaped being killed by apartheid security police in the 1980s.

“It’s such an irony this police business for me because I hated police officers with a passion similar to the love I have for them now. I really hated police. I moved from the extreme of not liking of police to the extreme love for police. Even those who were there during apartheid torturing and attempts at my life work with me. Police were a source of hate in the old days, they shot and killed my friends, I survived many attempts on my life,” said Cele, adding that he received better training in exile than police received these days.

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