ATHENS – Ari Danikas built a good business in Durban, South Africa with an electronics store he opened in 1988 after moving from Greece, becoming so adept at designing computers he earned the admiration of Police Major-General Johan Booysen, a customer who happened to head an elite squad, and recruited him to help with emerging technology tools.
Danikas fit right in, having had so many police officers as customers and was welcome into special training, welcomed all the more because his brother, cousin and uncle had been on the force in Greece, and the bond was made.
“I was trained in various combat elite fighting technics with the unit. Some of them included, automatic weapon and various fire arms handling and qualified on them, SWAT training, house penetration and criminal procedures,” he told The National Herald.
“Booysen recognized my potential and frequently invited me to high- profile cases that only senior officers of specialized units were part of,” said Danikas, who reveled in being able to also use his high-tech skills.
“I had access to video equipment, digital cameras and equipment that the unit did not have access yet. I was often using my own equipment and utilize them on missions,” he said, until some of them turned bloody and deadly even as he had endeared himself with a team that, he gradually came to find, were more like rogue police in a Netflix special.
He had, he said, found himself attached to a cop death squad going after the worst criminals in a country where violence is almost part of the culture and killing commonplace, with even the police not feared: except for Booysen’s unit, called Cato Manor, after their office.
“Booysen had instructed me to capture ‘First Approach Footage’ of a crime scene, or dead suspects, and then distribute them across members as well as specific reporters of newspapers in order to get preferable treatment from the media,” Danikas said, and he did, right up to the point he said he found they weren’t just arresting suspects, but killing them.
“By providing exclusive photograph of slaughtered African Suspects by his own unit, to certain newspapers … he was in a business relation with media and his unit was frequently praised and glorified for their ‘crime busting’ success, said Danikas.
“As I was new to the Afrikaner community, through the highly-respected Booysen family I was accepted ‘no questions asked,’ thus the unit would go on behaving as business as normal in my presence,” he said, until he reported what he saw and said he fled back to Greece with his family, fearing for his life.
“My baptism of fire came when on my very first mission with the unit, in searching for a suspect, an African man was dragged out of his home, in his underwear and was shot execution style in cold blood in front of me! The unit had over ten armed men and the poor fellow was already on the ground in a stage of shock. The unit claimed that ‘the suspect pulled a fire arm’ … so the firearm magically appeared by members of the unit to justify the kill,” he said.
TOO MUCH TO TAKE
But he went on. “I witnessed various interrogations and atrocities via the unit’s members throughout my 10 years’ service with the unit. The turning point was the interrogation of an African suspect back in 2004 of possession of a stolen laptop. The routine was the same as always, strip naked the suspect, tie him to a chair, cover his face and head with a bag and a piece of leather so he cannot breathe and hit him on the ribs so there are no visible marks left.”
“The torture at the offices of Cato Manor was so disturbing to me that I took one of the biggest risks of my life, pretending that I was receiving a call on my Nokia cell phone, that happened to be one of the first with a camera on it, turned my right side towards the tortured man and started to secretly record a few seconds of the actual torturing of the suspect. Had they discovered me I would not have been alive to tell the story.
“ But he took a chance and confronted Booysen who, said Danikas, just smiled as if it were part of the game and who told him, “That’s how we get confessions.” But then he told him to delete the video – Danikas kept a copy – and not speak of it before telling the rest of the Cato Manor squad what Danikas had done and the air went cold when he was around them, suddenly less friendly.
It was a tense time but he was kept on the squad by Booysen, with whom he had been so friendly that the squad chief came to Greece with Danikas to see the country and travel around Europe with him.
Danikas’ parents were from Amaliada, Peloponnesus. His father was an expert in metal welding techniques and was a supervisor at a shipyard on the island of Syros and when that business wasn’t doing well the family moved to Athens.
Ironically, his father had been offered a position at a South African airplane construction and services company but declined. It was left to his son to go there in 1988 at the age of 17, first to work in a pawn shop and then to open his electronics store.
Danikas kept with the team for several more years and in 2007, while celebrating Greek Easter at hall – Booysen was there – they got a call of a shooting, he said.
Despite Danikas’ revelation he had taped the earlier shooting, he was allowed to bring a camera and a cell phone to the scene he said there was a dead African man in a vehicle with multiple gun shots to the head and body.
Another, also shot a number of times, was bleeding heavily and writhing in agonizing pain, said Danikas, who said a civilian friend of Booysen’s had also been invited to see how the team operated.
Danikas said no one moved to help the man who was shot, wouldn’t call an ambulance and laughed at him.
“I focused my camera on the dying suspect … my instinct as well as my Greek culture was pushing me to get evidences of human rights violations by these racist people that are appointed by the State to serve and protect,” he said.
“By then it was clear to me that the Cato Manor unit was nothing more than a death squad as well as realizing that racist motives and personal gain were the driving force behind all those tortures and killings of African suspects,” he said.
“I had the experience, being in the force as a member of the Cato Manor unit for nearly 10 years to know that it was a matter of time before I had an accident,” he said and when he started receiving text messages on his cell phone with ads of “Funeral Specials” he knew it was time to go. With his wife, he came back to Greece in 2008.
A STORY UNDER QUESTION
In 2015, News 24 in Durban said his assertions were on shaky ground, despite the video evidence he had, and that he was being left off a witness list and that he was lying about what he saw: disputed, he said, by the videos, one of which TNH has seen.
The squad, members of the now disbanded unit had been arrested and charged with racketeering, murder and other crimes in 2012, based on an order from a prosecutor who was relying on Danikas’ testimony.
But four months later, The South African reported that four squad members close to Booysen were linked to dozens of suspicious murders and they were indicted for the killings.
That came out of a documentary, Echoes of Apartheid, citing Danikas showing one of his videos with the voice of Booysen’s girlfriend, Captain Adele Sonnekus, telling someone to stomp on a suspect’s stomach to keep him from crawling nearer. “The unit was a death squad,” said Danikas.
Booysen got all charges against him dropped. He was also cleared in a disciplinary hearing, but Danikas said the charges were later reinstated.
Danikas said the counter-claims were part of trying to discredit a whistleblower. “This is an old fake story, created by a supporter of Booysen that was outsourced and hired … to assist with the criminal case because I had refused to return to South Africa to give evidence,” he said.
Coming back to Greece has been good to him. He lives in a home in an affluent neighborhood and has two children, using his savings to get into the solar power technology development business, creating a company based on clean, sustainable energy and a solar farm.
“The fact that I have an electronics background helps me to maintain and constantly research and improve performances and production, enjoying a sturdy production of electricity under the Greek sun.”