S.Africa: KZN's action man

The man at the helm of the Hawks in KZN, Assistant Commissioner Johan Booysen, has been honoured several times for his successes, but he remains humble, and those that know him claim this is what makes him a good leader.

As a testament to his humility, when asked about his achievements during a Mercury interview, Booysen walked around his office to check the inscriptions on his awards and trophies to remind himself of these accolades.

For him, the past 34 years as a police officer have not been about collecting awards. “What keeps me going is the feeling that I am making a difference. The satisfaction you get when you have successfully completed a case and the tremendous appreciation from the families of the victims makes it worth it,” he said.

“One of the best experiences was when a group of kids clapped and cheered for us from a passing school bus as we stood over the KZN 26 (a cash heist gang of 26 men) after we arrested them at the toll plaza. That’s why I do this.”

Booysen started his career with the police as a constable in 1976. He then moved into crime intelligence before joining the provincial murder and robbery unit, where he stayed for five years. It was through his work in this unit that Booysen was recognised and was made head of the unit in 1998.

Later he moved up the ranks to become head of the serious and violent crime unit, and then the provincial commander of the organised crime unit. But it was not easy climbing the ranks. In his early days in the province, it was a difficult time to be a policeman, Booysen told The Mercury, because KZN was plagued by political violence.

He said one of the highlights was when the unit solved a house robbery case at one of King Goodwill Zwelithini’s residences in Mbelebeleni in 1995 because he was an important man in the province. A close friend and officer in the organised crime unit, who did not want to be named, described Booysen as one of the most experienced and well-trained officers in the police service.

“He deserves the new job. He is one of the good guys, a family man and a straightforward person who is committed to fighting crime,” said the friend. Booysen’s vast training is evident from the numerous certificates hanging on his office wall, which boast courses with the US’s Federal Bureau of Investigation and at universities in the US and China.

A father of three and a doting grandfather, Booysen said he also enjoyed gardening and sang in the choir.

“You may not believe it, but I actually used to be a choir master and I sang in the Durban Men’s Choir, but now I just sing in the church choir every Sunday,” he said. Booysen said that despite having dealt with hundreds of cases over the years, he still got a rush when he walked on to a major crime scene.

“I still get butterflies in my stomach when I go to a crime scene. This keeps me on my toes because if I did not have that, then I would know that I need to do something else with my life.”

Speaking about negative perceptions of the organised crime unit after several suspects were killed in shoot-outs with the unit’s officers in the past two years, Booysen said: “People must understand that these are not shoplifters. They are hardened criminals who have and will not hesitate to take our lives.

“There are probably more shootings here because this unit (KZN) deals more effectively with these crimes and encounters criminals more often, compared to other provinces.”

He said the province led the investigations and arrests of cash heist gangs, ATM bombers and drug traffickers. Institute for Security Studies senior researcher Johan Burger, who knows Booysen from his early days as a constable, described him as a subtle man who took his job seriously. “He is a very likeable person, who is easygoing with a wonderful personality,” said Burger. He said Booysen was one of the most educated policemen in the country.

Booysen has a bachelor of technology in policing degree from the Pretoria Technikon, an honours degree in presidential strategic leadership from North West University and he also recently completed a course in criminal investigation techniques at a Chinese university. “I think he is the best person for this position. He has got experience both operationally and academically.”

Another colleague said Booysen was a good commander who was prepared to fight crime with all his might. “He is keen to help and is always behind those who he leads. When you are given a task by him, you feel his presence because he guides you all the way.”

The officer said when it was time to play, Booysen played, but when it was time to work he made sure that things were done. “When I got to be a detective, Booysen encouraged me to get a degree because he believes that if you want to be better cop, you must educate yourself,” he said. As Booysen takes up his new position, foremost in his mind is improving the performance of general detectives in the province.

“This will include training and performance management. I want to send a clear message to detectives: there will be no passengers in detective branches,” said Booysen. “If they don’t want to perform, then they must find other jobs – but not in the police. Because we have to make a difference, we can’t try to or endeavour, we just have to.”

Source: The Mercury online, 20100305

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