/ 26 June 1998

Mbuli trial continues despite cop’s


Tangeni Amupadhi

The bank robbery trial against Mzwakhe Mbuli got off to an inauspicious start this week when one of the officers who arrested the poet committed suicide and the probe into police actions surrounding Mbuli’s arrest continued.

Prosecutor Johann Kok said this week he would not hold off until the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) completed its investigation. The ICD is probing allegations that police had paid and coached witnesses to implicate Mbuli.

“Their [the ICD’s] case is their case. My case is my case. We can’t wait for them,” Kok said, but would not comment on the possible implications if the ICD were to establish that the police framed Mbuli.

Julian Snitcher, ICD deputy director for special investigations, said more leads have emerged and this will stretch the length of his investigation indefinitely

Mbuli’s attorney, Johlene Muir, this week indicated that the defence will pursue the argument in court that her client is a victim of a conspiracy.

The defence’s case could be strengthened by the loss of one of two key witnesses for the state. Sergeant Johannes Venter committed suicide on Sunday, on the eve of the trial. Some of his colleagues at Valleria police station described him as a joyful character who always joked and smiled. He showed no signs of having problems. No one would talk officially about the suicide.

This week none of the state witnesses who testified could identify Mbuli and his two co-accused, Happy Shikwambane and Ben Masiso, as the men who robbed the First National Bank branch at Waverly, Pretoria, on October 28 last year.

On Monday, Isaac Mosadi, a teller at the bank, said he forgot to press a button to reactivate the video camera’s recording device when he saw “suspicious-looking men” in the bank, saying he was in “shock”.

Inspector Barend Brits said that he and Venter, who arrested Mbuli, were the first to respond to the bank’s alarm. On the way they saw a blue BMW and noted its number plates. Outside the bank the two officers met Alfred Ramela, the bank’s cleaner, who said he would recognise the robbers. They then went looking for the BMW, which they spotted moving slowly but picking up speed when occupants seemed to realise they were being followed by a police car.

The policemen caught up with the car and ordered the accused to pull over. Brits searched the car and found a blue bag containing the R15 000 stolen from the bank, Mbuli’s licensed pistol, a hand grenade and three other pistols.

Mbuli, Shikwambane and Masiso have been charged with armed robbery, and possession of unlicensed firearms and ammunition.

Muir said her client went to Pretoria to meet a man who claimed to have information about an assassination attempt on his life a year earlier. At the shopping complex where they met, the unknown man gave Mbuli and his co-accused the bag, which was later found to contain money, and told them to drive off quickly. Moments later they were arrested.

On Wednesday the court adjourned at 3pm so officials and spectators could watch the World Cup match between South Africa and Saudi Arabia because the court deemed it of national importance.

The trial continues.