Fed up with the rampant corruption within the SAPS, Durban cigarette vendor Kuben Govender took matters into his own hands and helped police apprehend a crooked cop and two other men impersonating police officers who allegedly robbed him of R1 000 worth of cigarettes and solicited a further R400 from him.
The suspects included a Durban city centre warrant officer; a police reservist who had worked in the police force during the 2010 World Cup, but had now been kicked out of the force; and a civilian.
Govender said the police officer approached him at his stall in the Phoenix Plaza on 15 May and told him he wanted to buy 10 cigarette cartons. He then immediately asked him if he sold illegal cigarettes.
Govender replied: “I don’t sell illegal cigarettes. I can get you cigarettes if you want, but they’re the legal ones.”
The police officer said he would buy the cigarettes and Govender arranged to meet the supplier at a Spar nearby to pick up the cartons the police officer had asked for.
On their way to Spar, Govender said he noticed a shady looking, shorter guy walking behind them.
“I knew there was something fishy – I thought it was either a police officer or a crook,” said Govender. “A lot of people come here to rob people at the plaza.”
When the two arrived at Spar, the supplier dropped off the cartons and left.
“When I got the cigarettes I showed him that everything is legal,” Govender said.
In order to clarify that the cigarettes are legal, you have to show the police officers the South African diamond of approval on the box and also show that the cigarettes do not exceed the government limitation of 12mg, explained Govender.
Despite the evidence that the cigarettes were legal, the officer insisted that Govender was selling counterfeit cigarettes. He confiscated the cigarettes and demanded that Govender reveal who his supplier was.
Threatened with a gun
When Govender refused to reveal the identity of the supplier, the officer threatened to arrest him. The officer then ordered Govender to jump into a white Toyota Avanza that had just stopped near them.
Inside the car he found two men who were posing as police officers. One of the men pointed a gun at Govender and threatened to harm him if he didn’t tell them who the supplier was.
When Govender still didn’t reveal the identity of the supplier, the three “police officers” drove around the plaza and stopped outside the police station.
A few minutes later he was taken to his house, without his consent, where the men attempted to search his house. But the men left when Govender’s brother told them to show him a warrant.
On the way back to the plaza, they dropped Govender on the side of road. The three men allegedly refused to give him back his cigarettes and solicited a further R400 from him.
Govender reported the matter to the police, but the police were unable to find the culprits.
Sniffing out the suspects
He then decided he would track them down himself and searched for the white Toyota Avanza – both in Phoenix and the surrounding townships.
A week and a half later, he noticed the white Avanza driving towards the Phoenix Plaza and he followed it.
He immediately called Sergeant Imraan Moolla of the Kwamashu metro police crime unit, asking for help in catching the three men.
“It was very brave of [Govender] to actually contact the police considering the fact that he had already been robbed by people pretending to be police officers and at that stage he actually thought they were [all] police officers,” said Sergeant Imraan Moolla.
“The consequences of that could have been that they would come back and retaliate. So he contacted the police knowing that he could put his life and his family’s life in jeopardy because the suspects knew where he stayed as well.”
The metro police immediately responded to Govender’s call for help. A short while after he had started following the Avanza, the three men noticed the vendor and tried to flee.
But Govender drove in front of them to block them. When the men tried to reverse, the metro police blocked them from behind.
“I was not afraid because you see, the bottom line was that I lost a lot of money,” said Govender.
“So fear was the last thing on my mind.”
After Govender and the metro police blocked their car, the three men were immediately arrested.
However, according to Govender, the suspects have been released on bail.
At the time of publishing Corruption Watch had not received confirmation from the SAPS that the suspects were released on bail.
The Phoenix resident said he was tired of corrupt police officers robbing poor vendors who are trying to earn an honest living.
“The police are supposed to be serving and protecting us – they took an oath, yet they’re the ones who are coming to rob us,” he said.
“The government is not doing enough to fight corruption in the police because the government and members of parliament are corrupt themselves.”
The Phoenix Plaza, where he and many other vendors trade, is just a stone’s throw away from the police station, yet they are often robbed by police officers, according to Govender.
“They’ve actually got guys who work with them in robbing people,” he said. “That’s why I said I’ll go the extra mile, and I’ll make sure these guys are caught even if it cost me my life.”
Govender, who has been living in Phoenix since 1981, said the three suspects have allegedly been robbing people for a long time and the SAPS had been looking for them for over two months.
Moolla agreed, saying his office had received similar complaints from other vendors who also operate outside the Phoenix Plaza.
According to Moolla, two more men were arrested in connection with the ongoing theft at the plaza.
The SAPS crime unit arrested the other two men at a later stage, following further investigation into the robberies at the Phoenix Plaza.