Details of deadly extortion network yet to be heard in court
During the day, Bhekukwazi Mdweshu was a detective sergeant at the Durban Central police station, the city’s largest, investigating cases of car theft.
But at night Mdweshu (37) was allegedly one of the kingpins in a deadly extortion network, which fleeced residents of the Glebelands Hostel near Umlazi in the south of the city.
The group is accused of killing those who refused to pay protection fees and members of rival gangs competing for control of the hostel, run by the eThekwini municipality. They also allegedly murdered several witnesses to their attacks.
According to the indictment, Mdweshu allegedly planned the bulk of the nine murders that the group, all of whom lived in Block 52 of the hostel, has been charged for.
The policeman, who was arrested in December, also allegedly secured automatic rifles and pistols for their attacks and monitored the movements of some of their victims ahead of them being killed.
On Monday the eight men appeared briefly in the high court in Pietermaritzburg on 22 criminal counts, including with racketeering, murder, attempted murder, extortion and possession of illegal arms and ammunition.
Mdweshu, Khayelihle Mbuthuma, Vukani Mcobothi, Eugene Wonderboy Hlophe, Ncomekile Ntshangase, Buyiselwa Mkhize, Mondli Mthethwa and Bongani Mbhele are yet to answer to the allegations and have not yet pleaded to the charges.
But hopes that the trial would get underway were dashed when the lawyer for Mdweshu, Hlophe and Ntshangase secured an adjournment until September 20 to allow them to secure counsel. The case may be adjourned again until next year because the counsel they want, advocate Jimmy Howse, may only be available in January.
All eight accused are still in custody, with Mdweshu, Hlophe and Ntshangase failing to secure bail in an application heard in April.
Mbuthuma was jailed for life earlier this year for another murder near the hostel while Mthethwa is serving a five-year sentence for culpable homicide.
Mbhele is serving a 10-year sentence for attempted murder.
According to the indictment, Mdweshu and Bonga Hlophe, who was killed in a clash with the rival “Mthembu’’ gang operating at the hostel, had started the extortion racket ahead of the first killings.
They had allegedly formed a “syndicate’’ to “kill or eliminate persons who resided at Glebelands Hostel and who threatened their control of the aforesaid hostel and their control of payments made by other dwellers at the hostel’’.
The indictment alleges that the group started their killing spree in the hostel, which is home to about 22 000 people, in August 2014.
The group, allegedly armed and co-ordinated by Mdweshu, “summoned’’ residents to meetings at which they were “ordered to make payment of cash to the accused or to persons, known or unknown to the state, under threat of reprisal if such payments were not forthcoming’’.
“It was clear to residents that they had no choice but to pay the amounts demanded by the accused.’’
According to the indictment, the group carried out assassinations inside the hostel complex, in shopping centres in nearby Umlazi and Montclair and in the streets of Lamontville township and the Umbilo suburb.
One of the victims, Themba Pina, survived an attack by the group in the hostel’s Block R in August 2014. Four men — Bongani Mthembu, William Mthembu, Mandla Dyanti and Lucas Mbekelwa — were wounded in the attack. Pina was allegedly hunted down by the group and murdered at his workplace in Umbilo in June 2015.
A second survivor and witness to the attack, Thokozani Manci, was shot in the head at a shopping centre in Montclair three months later, allegedly by Mdweshu and two accomplices.
They allegedly carried out the most brazen of their killings, the murder of state witness Sipho Ndovela, in the parking lot of the Umlazi magistrate’s court, where he was giving evidence in the trial of another alleged hitman associated with the Glebelands group, Sithembiso Mbanjwa, for the murder of Fikile Siyephu. Mdweshu, the state claims, had “wanted to be rid’’ of Siyephu, with whom he was involved in a “conflict’’.
Ndovela’s murder, while under police protection, was also brought before the Moerane commission into political killings in the province, with activists claiming involvement of the police in his killing and other murders in the hostel.
About 120 people have been killed at Glebelands since 2014, with no arrests taking place for the majority of the killings. Premier Willies Mchunu is expected to release the report of the commission next week.