Murder trial exposes prison 'mafia'

A series of “prison mafia trials” are likely to arise from the murder trial of Pietermaritzburg’s self-styled prison boss, Russel Ngubo, and associated investigations of the Jali commission, members of the elite Scorpions unit said this week.

Confirming the success of ongoing investigations into the activities of the “three musketeers”, namely Ngubo and two other prison officials charged with the murder of Impendle induna Ernest Nzimande in 1998, the investigator said crucial witnesses in several other murder cases were likely to come forward now that the three men had been refused bail by a Camperdown magistrate.

“The successful conclusion of these investigations, coupled with the disclosures emanating from the Jali commission, could well lead to the prosecution of other associated figures in the police, prisons and other government departments,” the investigator said.

“These guys have operated like a mafia, the prison’s mafia,” another investigator said. “They’ve got connections, but we will bust them.”

The Scorpions’s director of special operations in KwaZulu-Natal, Clifford Marion, declined to comment on speculation about prosecutions in the pipeline, but he said the Nzimande case was a significant breakthrough into investigations into political violence in both the Impendle and Richmond areas.

“The trial, and the investigations of the Jali commission, deserve close media attention,” said Marion.

In declining bail to Ngubo and his co-accused last Friday, magistrate Fred de Beer said evidence presented by Scorpions special investigator Andrew Keartland, coupled with what has become public knowledge through sittings of the Jali commission, clearly indicated that the accused “could well pose a danger to society”, and that “there would be huge public outcry if they are released from custody”.

De Beer found that all three had been dishonest in testimonies during the bail application and castigated Ngubo for claiming that police had dropped previous charges of grievous assault against him owing to insufficient evidence, when the real reason charges had been dropped was the fact that the complainants had been murdered under mysterious circumstances.

“The easiest way to avoid trial is to kill complainants,” said De Beer. “Of course there was not sufficient evidence when the complainants themselves were dead.”

Of particular concern to De Beer was the fact that the complainants in this case were also employees of Nzimande, who was later gunned down by unknown assailants who used a Department of Correctional Services vehicle.

This vehicle was later traced to correctional services provincial director of human resources Nhlanhla Ndumo, Ngubo and Thami Memela who now stand accused of arranging Nzimande’s murder. Last week they were joined in the dock by Ngubo’s VIP bodyguard, Thulani Xaba, who has allegedly confessed to having been involved in the conspiracy and to have have taken part in the attack on Nzimande.

De Beer’s refusal of bail follows last week’s startling disclosures that local prison officials have made extensive use of prisoners to murder political opponents and colleagues who had fallen out of favour with a ruling mob of Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union members.

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