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Two charged with ‘political’ killing

Two men have been arrested in connection with the murder of the head of communications of Mpumalanga’s department of sports, culture and recreation, Sammy Mpatlanyane, last year.

However it remains unclear whether the police have evidence directly linking the pair to the murder or are relying on an earlier attempted break-in at Mpatlanyane’s home.

Mpatlanyane was shot dead in his Nelspruit house on January 8 2010.

His murder has been viewed as one of a series of politically motivated killings that have dogged the province.

There have been rumours that before he was killed, he was resisting the award of a government tender, but no one has come up with a compelling motive for the killing.

No forced entry was detected at his house and the security alarm went off only after he was shot.

Several bullets were fired into the headboard of his bed and Mpatlanyane sustained wounds to his chest.

He appears to have struggled with his assassin during the attack.

A firearm belonging to an officer employed at the police provincial supply chain department was found next to the body.

The gun, reported stolen two weeks before Mpatlanyane’s death, was allegedly taken from under the officer’s pillow while he was asleep.

On Wednesday last week, police arrested a Mozambican national, Nito Machava, in connection with eight housebreaking cases in and around Nelspruit

A Mpatlanyane family member who asked to remain anonymous said that there were signs of an attempted break-in at Mpatlanyane’s home before the night of the murder.

The case was reported at Nelspruit police station.

Mpumalanga police spokesman Captain Leonard Hlathi declined to say whether Machava’s fingerprints matched those recovered from the house after the attempted break-in.

Machava allegedly escaped through a toilet window at the police station last Thursday, but police later re-arrested him at the local taxi rank.

Hlathi refused to comment. “I cannot confirm or deny anything, as it would jeopardise the case,” he told the Mail & Guardian.

Police said Machava’s arrest had led to the related arrest of a Tanzanian street vendor, Issa Omara (26), on Thursday.

However, Omara’s attorney, Sifiso Mabilane, said that Omara was arrested on Wednesday at his place of business by a group of organised crime unit members.

He was allegedly taken to his apartment, which was searched, but was only formally taken into custody and charged on Thursday morning and appeared in court on Monday.

Mabilane told the court that Omara, who had facial injuries, would allege that the police assaulted him.

The court ordered him to be taken to Rob Ferreira Hospital for a medical examination.

Hlathi denied that Omara was assaulted, saying that he had sustained his injuries after resisting arrest.

Omara was allegedly implicated in a confession that Machava made to the police.

It is unclear whether the latter has confessed to housebreaking or murder.

Hlathi confirmed that the stolen gun belonging to the officer was used to kill Mpatlanyane.

However, he could not reveal the ballistic test results or whether Machava’s fingerprints were found on the weapon.

The duo appeared again in the Nelspruit Regional Court for a bail application on Thursday.

A team of more than 10 police tactical response team members searched every person entering the court.

Machava, who is slightly built, did not have a legal representative and spoke in Portuguese.

The case was postponed to April 12 2011 for a formal bail application. Both suspects remain in custody.

The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, supported by M&G Media and the Open Society Foundation for South Africa, produced this story. All views are the centre’s. www.amabhungane.co.za.

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