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Moonoo: the new detective leading Pistorius case

South African police named its top detective to take over the Oscar Pistorius case Thursday after it emerged the officer who had been leading the investigation faces attempted murder charges.

“We recognise the significance, the importance and the severity of the matter,” national police commissioner Riah Phiyeg said as she announced that detective Hilton Botha had been dropped from the case.

Phiyega, commissioner of the South African Police Service (SAPS), said she has assigned lieutenant general Vineshkumar Moonoo, who once worked as a police officer in Soweto under the apartheid regime, to take over from Botha.

“He is the most senior detective in the SAPS environment. This matter will receive attention at the national level,” said Phiyega.

Given Moonoo’s rank, the move is tantamount to sending an army general to frontline trenches.

The criminal charges against Botha as well as his admission about failings in the Pistorius investigation and contradictory evidence shone an unflattering light on the police force in a country that is ranked one of the most violent in the world.

The force was accused of brutality after the Marikana mine tragedy in August where they shot 34 striking workers in the space of just a few minutes in a crackdown that shocked the world.

The prosecution has accused the star Olympian and Paralympian of premeditated murder over the Valentine’s Day killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, but Pistorius says he mistook her for an intruder at his luxury Pretoria home and did not intend to kill her.

Moonoo is a career police officer who was described by colleagues in a police blog in 2011 as “vastly experienced as a detective, both as an investigator”.

He underwent initial police training in 1981, and according to police service records became a detective in 1984 in Soweto, the cradle of the anti-apartheid movement.

He spent the following 27 years working his way up through the ranks to become head of the detective service.

Moonoo will face a tough task to turn the case around after a series of missteps by the man he replaced.

Botha has to answer seven attempted murder charges for shooting at a minibus taxi in 2011.

Pistorius’s lawyers tore into Botha’s police work during the bail hearings for Pistorius, forcing him to agree that the Olympian’s version of events fitted the crime scene.

Botha conceded he did not wear protective clothing when Pistorius’s forensic team visited the athlete’s luxury Pretoria home where the killing took place, which may have contaminated the scene.

He was further forced to admit that police had not seen a bullet which was subsequently discovered by the defence forensic team, and witness testimony he submitted was picked apart by Pistorius’s lawyer.

“I’m sure it could have been handled better,” Botha admitted on the witness stand.

His boss seemed to agree.

“I, as commissioner, am appointing a new team to take the long-haul process,” Phiyega said. “And investigating officer Botha is not in the team.”