Death threats, contract killers disrupt PE cops’ way of life
Death threats, assassination attempts and dead witnesses – that is the reality for the provincial gang task team based in Port Elizabeth.
In the four years since the unit’s inception, numerous attempts on the lives of its members have been foiled.
The impact is immense and means a complete overhaul of the way the officers live, according to unit commander Detective-Colonel Mike Grobler.
From changing their routes to work to never eating in the same restaurant twice and being super-alert when walking their dogs, extreme vigilance has become second nature.
Prosecutors are also not immune to threats, according to deputy director of public prosecutions Indra Goberdan.
Gang unit members – who won several provincial awards earlier this month for their efforts in clamping down on gangs – told in an interview how Eastern Cape gangsters in prison were contracting Cape Town gangsters to kill investigators, witnesses and prosecutors.
All the plots were uncovered before they were carried out, with the latest coming to light earlier this month.
The gang unit was initially formed to deal solely with Port Elizabeth’s Northern Areas gangs, but the unit’s mandate was extended to the rest of the province earlier this year after it was determined that gangsters were moving into smaller towns to expand their networks.
Since it came into being in 2013, the unit has arrested 1 060 gangsters in connection with 836 criminal cases, with 105 gangsters sentenced to a total of 1 222 years in jail.
The Eastern Cape gang unit also had more witnesses in witness protection than any other unit in the country, Grobler said.
He said gangsters were targeting the unit as a result of its success rate.
“They do not care about you, your family or anyone you know,” he said. “All they care about is staying out of jail. “We are the ones keeping them there, which is why they are coming after us.” Grobler said the effect on the unit members’ lives was massive.
“None of us can go out for supper in the same place twice.
“We cannot walk around a shopping centre with our children or grab a few beers after work.
“It has reached the stage where walking your dog around the block is a risk.”
Grobler said every member of the unit was vetted and told what the job entailed when they signed up. “This unit will consume your life. “My team is constantly on edge and aware of what is happening around them.
“When driving to work, we make sure we know escape routes in case they [gangsters] pull up next to us and shoot.
“To date, about 11 assassination plots against my team and myself have been stopped – those are the ones we know of.”
He knew of three failed assassination plots against him alone.
“At one stage, there was a R250 000 hit on my head,” Grobler said.
“They did try twice but, in both cases, I found out prior to them striking.
“They were well-planned hits, with the intention to shoot me at a petrol station I used to stop at every morning on the way to work.
“These gangsters have money, resources and patience.
“In jail, they befriend fraudsters and we are now seeing that they are wanting to hack our cellphones and laptops to gather information.
“They know where we live, where we eat and where we shop.”
Grobler said in a third attempt to take him out, two hitmen from the Americans Gang in Cape Town were sent to Port Elizabeth a year ago to kill him.
“I intercepted them in Jeffreys Bay,” he said. Another detective, who declined to be named due to safety concerns, said he had been at a well-known Port Elizabeth shopping centre with his children when gangsters accosted him.
“One of the gangsters came up behind me, put fingers into my back and told me he now knew I had children.”
Asked how his family coped, the man said they had to be coached and taught to be extra vigilant.
“It is well known that if the gangsters cannot come for me, they will come for the next closest thing to me.
“This is their way of trying to get us to back down.
“They need to realise if anything happens to us or a prosecutor, the docket and case will continue regardless,” he said.
Grobler said orders for hits usually happened before a court case or during the trial.
“The mentality is that if the investigator, state prosecutor or a key witness is killed, the case will fall apart and they will walk free,” he said.
In one case of a witness being taken out, the state’s star witness in a gang murder case, Alex-Nico Ferreria, 27, was gunned down in Bethelsdorp in February.
Ferreira was shot 2km from his parents’ home just three months before he was due to testify against suspected gang members Enzo Kroates and Clement Kogana.
His alleged killers are still in custody.
“We have had to adapt our investigations so that if something does happen, the case would still be good enough to proceed and secure a conviction,” Grobler said.
The gang unit has 157 key witnesses in the witness protection programme at present.