“I dreamt that it happened. Four times, I dreamt that my father would be executed in cold blood. In the one scenario, I am with him in the car, I am rushing him to hospital. In the other dreams, he was already dead, and there was nothing I could do for him.”
On September 18, Carlisle Kinnear’s nightmare became reality. His father, Lieutenant Colonel Charl Kinnear, head of detectives in the Western Cape’s anti-gang unit, was murdered in front of his home in Bishop Lavis, Cape Town.
While Carlisle speaks, his mother, Nicolette, nods her head. His younger brother Casleigh (19) stares at the ground and then says: “I dreamt that I came out of a shopping centre, my father was waiting in the car. Headshot…”
Nicolette: “I dreamt I was crying bitterly in the hospital because Charl was deceased.”
Carlisle, who is 24, says: “It was only after my father’s death that I told my brother about the dreams. My mother heard us, and then came and told us about her dreams.”
For the first time, they realised they all had the same nightmares.
Maybe it prepared us for it, to a certain extent, but nothing prepares you for something like that.”
Even so, Charl never spoke to his family about what they had been terrified of for 10 years – that he would be murdered by the criminals he wanted to put behind pars.
His job was desperately dangerous. He had just made breakthroughs in investigations into the illegal issuing of firearm licences. The net around corrupt underworld figures and police members had started to close in over the last days of Charl’s life.
For the three Kinnears, he was the man with the sea-green eyes, and the lead singer at weddings and funerals. Just the previous week, he bought another 20kg of OMO from his neighbour, who lost his job because of Covid-19, and Charl was helping him out with a new business plan.
Charl was also a father to his sons’ friends, had a bear-hug greeting and 12 cups of tea a day, and a habit of swapping his formal pants for boxer shorts as soon as he got home.
“And if we complained about it, he just laughed and said: ‘Dis my huis.’”
Soft behind these walls, yes, but fearless outside them, says Nicky.
“He wasn’t afraid of taking on the big guys. And because he was such a straight-talker, he wasn’t popular everywhere. My husband was murdered because he wouldn’t turn; he wouldn’t become a corrupt police officer.”
Casleigh: “We knew that. It’s the honest truth.”
Carlisle: “My father never discussed his cases, but he did say that police corruption is much worse and goes much higher up than people think. It’s as if the fight is more inside the police than out there. The corrupt versus the honest.”
All Casleigh wants to tell his father’s murderer is “thank you”.
He smiles at our astonished faces.
“My father hated lies and gangsters. But what he hated most of all, was corrupt police officers. I knew my father was investigating a bunch of police officers and former members, and I also know that my father would not have wasted time on an investigation that was going nowhere. He was on the verge of arresting crooked cops.
“The question is, would they get away with it? Probably. But his death has now become a rallying cry. The investigations simply can’t disappear into the sand any more. My father has now paid for true change. With his life.”
Nicky: “Things have to change. Charl is dead now, but who is next? Nobody protected my husband, who will protect those who take over his investigations?
“So many detectives have been murdered. So many have resigned before they got lead in their lives. Can you imagine how scared they are now?
“That’s why me and the children have been speaking out so loudly, because somebody has to take care of the members of my husband’s team – good, honest detectives. Otherwise, there will be another wife and children sitting on a couch, the way we are right now.”
There’s no time for her to grieve, she must make sure that Charl’s death does not become just another statistic.
For the Kinnears, Charl was his usual self during the last week of his life. He was, in any event, always cautious about an assassination attempt.
“We know how careful he was. He immediately knew if there was a strange car or person on our street. The murderers clearly planned it very carefully.”
Casleigh: “And executed it in a very calculated way. Professional. Against my father’s head.”
The first shot was fatal.
“Charl always drove with his firearm in his lap or under his thigh. His weapon was still under his leg. If he had any strength left, he would have reached for it,” the family says.
Nicky: “It shows that he didn’t see the murderer as a threat.”
Casleigh: “My father turned into our road, and it’s two or three seconds to get to our house. You can see the whole street. The murderer approached from the opposite direction.
“When my father stopped, he had to have been just metres from the killer. So my father had to have know him, or seen him earlier. Everything will be on the cameras outside.”
The Kinnears knew that Charl’s phone was being tapped, and it was no surprise to them when somebody was arrested for this.
“My husband talked about his phone so many times. And if we knew, surely the police also knew. He asked for protection. That was ignored. He asked again. That was also ignored. Surely it wasn’t a state secret that his life was in danger.”
Charl’s phone was tapped, and the rest of the family’s phones were being monitored. They had to get used to having new phones all the time. You can hear it when the phone is tapped, they say. “It sounds hollow – as if you’re sitting on a mountaintop.”
Nicky even teased them, she laughs, saying the birds are sitting on the telephone lines and she was going to throw them some mealies later.
The people closest to them always said it sounded as if the Kinnears were living inside a movie.
But this was their reality.
Carlisle never wants to make another phone call like that in his life – to call your mother and say: “Come home, Daddy has been shot in the head.”
Nicky’s eyes fills with tears. “The neighbours told how everyone started crying when the two children sank down on their knees, with crowds of people around them, lifting their hand as they prayed for their father.
“I thank God, my children’s Christian grounding is strong.”
The trip home … she felt so numb inside, she remembers. “There was my husband, broken, sitting in his car.”
Casleigh: “My father looked the way he always did when he was asleep.”
They realised the next day that a raw wound had been scratched open in the community after Charl was killed – the people of Bishop Lavis are done with gangs and corruption.
People are curious, Nicky thought when she saw the crowd at the murder scene. But after the forensics investigators had left and Charl’s car had been removed, they kept standing there. And standing there.
Then she realised it wasn’t because they were curious, it was because they cared. Nicky and her children sat on a pillow on the pavement outside their home, behind the police tape. They didn’t want to go inside, with the whole community there to support them.
Nobody could get into the road – eventually the whole block – because of the crowds of people who came out to support the family.
They wish he knew how the whole world really felt about him.
“Charl belonged to Bishop Lavis. This is where he grew up, this is where he died.
“Many people said that he was reckless to keep living in the same area that he worked in. And a colonel who drives a Corolla? But then, that’s really the kind of man that Charl was.”
Nicky was in Standard 6 (Grade 8) when she fell deeply in love with the matric with the green eyes (“blue if he was angry, green when he was being a darling”) who taught her Sunday school.
“He always teased me that I had met him when I was still wearing vessies [vests],” says Nicky.
“That’s Daddy, for you,” Casleigh laughs. “He had the driest jokes and he thought they were hysterical.”
Nicky: “We went out for nine years before we got married, and we lived in this house for 27 years. He wanted to plough back into the community. Children need role models.”
Charl was in the detective service for 30 years. He comes from the old school, she explains, and his sharp, watertight dockets were his pride.
He was on a hit list for 10 years, so the boys were never had a normal teenage life. They were taught never to leave the home at a fixed time, to vary their routes and to never be in the same car together.
The boys’ soccer matches were always risky. Charl would arrive minutes before the match, stand at the far corner of the field and would disappear shortly before the final whistle.
Carlisle: “He would never show that he was our father, never cheered for us or waved, but he was always there.”
In shopping centres, he always walked 15m to 20m behind his family, on the opposite side of the corridor.
“We socialised with our friends at home, but clubs were taboo. You always call when you arrive somewhere safely – a Kinnear law.”
Last November, Charl’s colleague, Lieutenant Colonel André Kay, was murdered in his driveway in Bishop Lavis. A week later, somebody was found carrying a hand grenade near Kinnear’s home.
“And that was while we were under police protection, it shows how desperate they were.”
In December, the Kinnears’ police protection was suspended, without reason.
“The decision was made at a provincial level, but it’s now a national issue; the answers have to come now,” says Nicky.
The very worst would be if nothing good came from her husband’s death: “Please, catch the guilty.”
In this living room, with its fish tank and pool table and comfortable couches, Charl hung out with his boys and cheered for Manchester United until he was hoarse.
“In his boxers,” they laugh.
Now added to the room is a South African flag with Charl’s police cap and his lapel badges.
Two large, white candles flank a photo of him. Flowers are everywhere.
Nicky: “He would have said: ‘Are those people still outside?’ This attention would have bothered him.”
The stern colonel with the gentle smile, walking past alleged underworld boss Nafiz Modack in court with a thick docket under his arm, ready.
The father who picked up children from the informal settlement on Saturdays with a boot full of soccer togs.
Now the world has slight idea about who Charl was.
*Retief wrote this article before 39-year-old Zane Killian was arrested in connection with Kinnear’s murder. Killian appeared in the Bishop Lavis Magistrates’ Court on Friday on charges of murder, conspiracy to commit murder and unlawful interception of communication