Former KZN Hawks head Johan Booysen dismisses Mary De Haas' Cato Manor claims

Former KwaZulu-Natal Hawks head Johan Booysen has rejected claims by researcher Mary de Haas that the decision by Sunday Times editor Bongani Siqoko to apologise for a series of stories was wrong.

In a letter to the Sunday Times, which was not published by the newspaper, De Haas took issue with Siqoko's apology for the Cato Manor "death squad" stories.

On October 14, Siqoko also apologised for a series of stories the paper ran alleging the involvement of senior Hawks officials in the illegal rendition of Zimbabwean suspects and the newspaper's coverage of the so-called SARS "rogue unit".

"… we admit here today that something went wrong in the process of gathering the information and reporting the Cato Manor, SARS and Zimbabwean renditions stories. This is after we engaged constructively with all key parties involved in the stories," wrote Siqoko.

But, in her eight-page open letter, De Haas wrote that she could see nothing wrong with the original Cato Manor report, which alleged that Cato Manor police were involved in the extra-judicial killing of suspects. The story reportedly said that Booysen was ultimately responsible for the Cato Manor unit although he was not its direct commander.

De Haas' letter detailed several deaths in KwaZulu-Natal and asked why these were being covered up, questioning whether it was because the suspects were poor and black. She said that she personally introduced two of the Sunday Times reporters involved in the story to contacts in the taxi industry.

"I have detailed knowledge of some of the taxi conflict… so I arranged for Stephan Hofstatter and Mzilikazi Wa Afrika to meet with some taxi drivers who had first-hand experience of what was happening…," De Haas wrote.

She added that people feared for their lives, others were killed and others were harassed for their knowledge of the ongoing murders.

"So, in conclusion Mr Editor, having hopefully read what I have written, please tell me if I have missed something important regarding the reporting on the Cato Manor unit, and please tell everyone why you think the journalists who wrote the 'death squad' stories have, like those writing during apartheid, distorted the truth - and provide us with the factual basis on which you have apparently decided that the story is fake news," her letter read.

Asked if he wanted to respond to De Haas, Siqoko told News24: "The Sunday Times has said everything it wanted to say in the apology." 

But Booysen took issue with De Haas' narrative.

"In an open letter to Bongani Siqoko of the Sunday Times, Mary De Haas seeks an explanation why the Sunday Times has apologised for the Cato Manor Death Squad story. She concludes her letter to Mr Siqoko by asking if she had missed anything important regarding the reporting of the Cato Manor story.

"Having read the Sunday Times' apology and the letter by Ms De Haas, it is evident that she has," he wrote.

He said her letter was "permeated with conjecture, inaccuracies and speculation".

"My interpretation of Siqoko's apology was to contextualise the SARS, Zimbabwe and Cato Manor stories in the broader context of political machinations at the time. Ms De Haas evidently did not read my article in the same paper where I detailed some of the falsities in the stories written by Hofstatter and Wa Afrika. Whitewashing the falsehoods under the pretext that Hofstatter and Wa Afrika only sensationalised their stories deflects from the real issue and is patently disingenuous," he wrote.

He said De Haas' "revelation" that she made the introductions between taxi drivers involved in the conflict "dismisses any notion of objectivity by her and the journalists".

He said her letter insinuated that the Cato Manor unit was involved in several murders, but added that this was not true.

In one case, an example cited by De Haas in her letter could not be true, according to Booysen, because the murders happened in 2015 and the Cato Manor unit had been disbanded three years prior.

He went on to dispute several of her claims regarding Cato Manor's alleged involvement in murders.

"Every single suspect (except two) who died in shootouts with Cato Manor were linked with evidence such as fingerprints, witness statements, CCTV footage, confessions, cellphone linkages and other evidence to ATM bombings, cash-in-transit heists and police killings. Some of them were escapees from prison.

"Ms De Haas' emotional conclusion that it is poor innocent black people who are dying at the hands of Cato Manor is based on conjecture, speculation and the one-sided versions of criminal elements within the taxi industry. The evidence demonstrates that they were certainly not innocent and neither were they poor. It is a cheap shot. As an academic, she ought to know that hypotheses are proved or disproved by objective research be it qualitative or quantitative. Investigation is no different," he wrote.

In an open letter to Bongani Siqoko Mary De Haas seeks an explanation why the Sunday Times has apologised for the Cato Manor Death Squad story.docx

SUNDAY TIMES APOLOGY AND MARY DE HAAS' RESPONSE By Johan Booysen In an open letter to Bongani Siqoko of the Sunday Times, Mary De Haas seeks an explanation why the Sunday Times has apologised for the Cato Manor Death Squad story.

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