'Prisoners used as hired guns'
INVESTIGATORS of the Jali commission have begun probing information that warders at Pietermaritzburg New Prison have made extensive use of prisoners as hired guns, and are expecting as many 32 cases to come to light.
This is the latest gem to emerge from the commission, which has heard astonishing evidence about official criminality and corruption in the KwaZulu-Natal prisons service.
Confirming that investigations into two such cases began this week, the commission’s chief investigator, Jerome Brauns, said he had received reliable information of up to 32 cases of prisoners being taken out of the prison to carry out “professional hits” or armed robberies.
“In most cases it appears the prisoners were used to settle scores with political opponents in the Richmond area. But the two cases we are looking at concern the elimination of prison warders who fell out of favour with a ruling [Police and Civil Rights Union] Popcru clique,” said Brauns. “What better alibi can you have than to be a prisoner, locked safely in your cell.”
In a confession made to the commission’s investigation team this week, an inmate of a KwaZulu-Natal prison, Bhekisiza Sibisi, said he had murdered two prison officials, Thulani Dladla and Owen Madlala, in 1996 at the command of warders at Pietermaritzburg New Prison.
The warders are understood to be closely associated with Pieter- maritzburg prison’s boss, Russel Ngubo, and Thami Memela, who are charged with the murder of a political opponent, Impendle councillor Induna Ernest Nzimande, in 1998.
According to Brauns, Sibisi had previously been set up to rob the First National Bank branch in Wartburg.
The plan, however, miscarried and Sibisi was caught red-handed. Although Sibisi was released from prison and driven to the bank by warders, his accomplices were never arrested.
While serving his subsequent sentence Sibisi was allegedly used as a hit man to kill Madlala after he had “disagreed” with leading members of Popcru during the union’s forcible takeover of the prison from former commanders.
This was soon followed by the murder of Dladla, who had also fallen out with Popcru members.
Brauns said Sibisi was taken from the prison by several correctional services staff, including Memela, warder Ernest Mbhedu, and the head of security at Pieter- maritzburg New Prison, Snotty Mkhize.
As they drove past Dladla’s home, one warder lobbed a hand-grenade into the house, while Sisibi opened fire.
“The grenade did not explode,” Brauns said. “After doing a U-turn and driving toward the house again, the attackers noticed Dladla standing in a crowd at his gate.
“Sibisi then alighted from vehicle, found Thulani standing by a group of people, shot him and got back into kombi. Then the men proceeded to Snotty Mkhize’s home for a braai.”
Brauns said several warders, including Mish Mbhedu and Ngubo, were subsequently arrested by the local murder and robbery unit, interrogated and released without charges being brought against them.
This was despite the fact that fingerprints were found on the unexploded grenade, said Brauns.
Mbedhu died after a bout of hiccups, allegedly as a result of being poisoned by his colleagues after it was learned he was cooperating with a local crime intelligence unit investigating incidents of prisoner escapes, murders and armed robberies.
- The KwaZulu-Natal Scorpions unit and members of the Jali commission are anxiously awaiting Friday’s ruling on the bail application of Ngubo, Memela and Correctional Services provincial head of personnel Nhlanhla Ndumo, all of whom are charged with murdering Nzimande.
While the Jali commission is concerned that the release on bail of Ngubo and the others will stem the flow of witnesses who have given damning evidence about nepotism and corruption at prisons, the Scorpions fear their ongoing investigations into Nzimande’s murder, and other cases allegedly involving Ngubo and his co-accused, will be effectively scuppered.