/ 20 October 1989

Death-row policeman tells of SB ‘hit-squad’

A former security policeman on death row yesterday claimed he was part of a police death-squad that brutally killed leading human rights activist Griffiths Mxenge. Butana Almond Nofomela, who was granted a last-minute stay of execution last night, claimed in an affidavit that he was one of four South African security policemen who killed Mxenge under orders from senior officers in the force eight years ago. Nofomela said in the affidavit that he was partially responsible for eight other political killings ordered by superior officers and that all but one of the victims were connected to the African National Congress.

It was unclear at the time of going to press whether the confession was genuine, or merely a well-hatched plot to escape the noose waiting for Nofomela early this morning. If it is shown to be true, it will be the first major lead to emerge from the series of political assassinations in recent years. 

In his affidavit Nofomela gave a detailed description of the Mxenge killing and implicated police officers, including a brigadier and a captain. According to sources in Natal, Nofomela’s account ties closely with the facts of the case. Justice Minister Kobie Coetsee granted Nofomela a last-minute stay of execution yesterday evening after Lawyers for Human Rights had submitted the affidavit in an urgent application for the hanging to be halted. The reprieve will remain in force until the allegations have been investigated. 

The killing of Mxenge at Umlazi Sports Stadium on November 19, 1981 was a peculiarly brutal one. The Durban attorney was butchered with knives, his throat was cut and his ears cut off. His body was found the next morning with a 21cm gash across the throat, 45 stab wounds and a crushed skull. Two fierce dogs that Mxenge kept for protection had been poisoned a few days earlier. 

Griffiths Mxenge’s wife, Victoria, was shot dead a few years later in the driveway of her home. Both killings remain unsolved. Nofomela, 32, who was based at security branch headquarters in Pretoria, claimed he was sent to Durban by senior officers in the company of three older ”colleagues” The instructions given to the four were to ”eliminate” Mxenge ”for his activities within the ANC”, and to make the crime look like a robbery. In the affidavit, he described the journey to Durban, and how he poisoned the Mxenge dogs. The assassins, Nofomela said, scouted out the Mxenge home and the route which Griffiths took on his way home from work. 

”In the meantime I went to the house and l threw the (poisoned) meat into the yard as planned.” However they were unable to get Mxenge until several days later, when they faked a breakdown at a point they knew he would pass on his way back home from work. ”Mxenge stopped behind the bakkie (where the four were waiting) and asked whether he could help us. I opened the car and I said ‘Yes please’. He then switched off his ignition and at the same time I pulled my firearm, a Makarov pistol.” 

Nofomela then describes how they took Mxenge to Umlazi Stadium and backed him to death. ”We then all stabbed him several times. He immediately died and we carried on butchering him badly,” he said in the affidavit. ”We removed Mxenge’s items of value like his money and watch in order to simulate a robbery”. They then took Mxenge’s car to Umlazi police station, and later Nofomela drove it to Piet Retief in the company of a senior white police officer, stripped it and set it alight near the Swaziland border. 

Nofomela claimed that he and his fellow assassins were each paid R1000. He was told he night be needed at a later date to kill Mxenge’s wife, but he was not given further orders in this regard. He claimed to have taken part in a series of police killings on ANC targets, four of them in Swaziland, one in Maseru and one in Botswana. Nofomela said he was visited on death row on a number of occasions by security branch policemen who assured him that steps were being taken on his behalf and he would be saved from the noose. But, losing faith on receiving his notice of execution last Friday, he sent a message to Lawyers for Human Rights.

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.


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