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'Execution-style' killings send chilling message to legal fraternity

Police at the scene of the shooting of advocate Pete Mihalik, outside Reddam House school in Green Point, Cape Town.
Police at the scene of the shooting of advocate Pete Mihalik, outside Reddam House school in Green Point, Cape Town.
Image: Anthony Molyneaux

The execution-style killings of lawyers are designed to stall cases, create fear and send a message to the legal fraternity not to pursue specific cases related to gangs or drugs.

“It sends a message and it also presents a heightened risk profile to take on specific cases ... people think twice about dealing with certain cases that involve specific people that have known links to gangs,” Dr Simon Howell, research associate at the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) centre of criminology said on Wednesday.

His comments follow the death of advocate Vernon Jantjies, who was gunned down on Sunday as he stepped out of a shop at a petrol station in Cape Town.

Cape Town advocate Vernon Jantjies was killed in a hail of bullets on Sunday.
Cape Town advocate Vernon Jantjies was killed in a hail of bullets on Sunday.
Image: Facebook/Vernon Jantjies

Jantjies is the fourth lawyer to be shot in an apparent “hit” in the city since 2016. He was acting as a criminal defence advocate at the time of his death.

“There is a concern, especially now, among the legal fraternity,” Howell said in an interview with Refilwe Moloto on CapeTalk radio.

These types of shootings were “conducted to stall the legal processes around the specific cases” and “create fear and almost act as a warning to other advocates and others in the legal fraternity to not pursue specific cases or specific concerns that relate to gangsterism or drugs”, he said.

Jantjies’s friend, advocate Gilbert Jose, told TimesLIVE earlier that the legal profession in Cape Town appeared to be under siege. “We are facing an unknown enemy, because it sounds like people don’t want us to do our work without fear or favour. We do not know who is killing us,” said Jose.

Howell said lawyers who opted to get “protection” faced a choice: “If they take on significant protection they limit their movement and it impacts on their lives quite significantly. Ultimately, you are faced with a choice of how much you allow the job to impact on your freedom of movement and your freedom of living a specific way.”

Johan Burger, from the Institute for Security Studies, told IOL in an interview on Tuesday: “There is a growing confidence among the crime syndicates and a belief that they can continue to cause mayhem because of the inability to arrest and successfully prosecute them.

“It has an intimidating effect on the legal fraternity and these crime syndicates are sending out a message that no-one in the legal fraternity is safe.”

Jantjies’ death follows the shooting of other prominent lawyers in the city. They include advocate Pete Mihalik, who was shot while dropping his children at school in Green Point in October 2018.

One of Cape Town’s top criminal lawyers, Pete Mihalik, was shot dead on October 30 2018 while dropping his children at school.

The Sunday Times reported in November 2018 that the shooting was arranged by a convicted prisoner from his jail cell at the behest of two alleged Cape Town mafia bosses.

Attorney David Mbazwana was shot dead in a spaza shop in Khayelitsha in May. Attorney Noorudien Hassan was shot outside his home in 2016.

Vuyile Maliti, a taxi boss, and two alleged hitmen, Sizwe Biyela and Nkosinathi Khumalo, have appeared in the high court in Cape Town in connection with the death of Mihalik. They face a murder charge, a charge of possession of an illegal firearm and ammunition, and two attempted murder charges.

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