The brave men and dogs of the Shongweni K9 Unit put their lives on the line for the Upper Highway community on a daily basis, fighting crime to keep us safe
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God gave me what I asked for because I always wanted to be a policeman. I wanted to be a detective but I found that too slow. I don’t want to investigate something that has already happened, so I came to the dog unit,” says Constable Musa Kwela. He and his nine experienced colleagues from the Shongweni K9 Unit, specialise in being there when things happen.
They are responsible for countless apprehensions and arrests in a vast area, stretching from Westville to Cato Ridge. This small, tight-knit team are called in for more serious crimes like housebreakings, armed robberies and hijackings. Each policeman has his own dog, and rarely one handler will have two dogs – a patrol, and a narcotics dog. The satellite station on the grounds of the Durban Shongweni Club is home to nine dogs – two narcotics dogs, six patrol dogs and one with patrol and explosives training.
“The State uses a variety of breeds, and they don’t have to be pedigreed,” says Warrant Officer Colin Buckthorp, commanding officer of the Shongweni K9 Unit. Rottweilers, German Shepherds and a newly acquired Belgian Shepherd are all part of the police dog pool. “We like to train a dog from 18 months,” says Colin, which is an ideal age as aggression training can be hard on a young animal.
“Narcotics dogs have to work in crowds and search amongst people and inside homes, so they can’t be aggressive and they are trained not to bite. Search and rescue dogs shouldn’t bite either. They are trained to search for dead bodies, lost people and shallow graves, so they tend to be placid.” Colin elaborates that potential patrol dogs are selected for their confidence with the expectation of being able to train them for aggression and desensitisation to gunshots.
“Fitness is a must for you and your dog,” says Musa. He explains that as hijackings and house robberies frequently occur in the early hours of the morning or late afternoon, midday is the best time for a run with his loyal canine. The remainder of the day is spent caring for the dogs, training and good old-fashioned police work.
Musa and his dog Johnny work closely with the Organised Crime, Crime Investigation and Narcotics Units. His dog is trained to sniff out dagga, crystal meth, cocaine, rock cocaine, heroin and mandrax – all of which are prevalent in the Upper Highway area. As he empties the contents of a red capsule into his palm, Musa describes how the K9 Unit are combating the local drug problem. This innocuous brown powder is heroin and is highly addictive. “Most people living in the suburbs use cocaine or good quality dagga,” he says, adding that the profit to be made from selling dagga at R90 a gram, is tempting for many.
Dramatic high speed car chases on Field’s Hill and in Westville in the final days of February, led to yet another successful crackdown on crime by Warrant Officer Buckthorp and his colleagues.
Musa leans on his patrol car parked in the dusty enclosed yard of the satellite station while his dog sits patiently in the cage behind the driver’s seat. They wait for the inevitable crackle on the police radio. “I didn’t come here for the job opportunity. I didn’t come here to be a billionaire. I came here to serve the community. We will continue to fight and we won’t back down.”