Harry Gwala district municipality mayor and senior ANC KwaZulu-Natal provincial leader Mluleki Ndobe and three other men have appeared in the Umzimkhulu magistrate’s court in connection with the murder of former ANC Youth League secretary general Sindiso Magaqa.
Ndobe — who is number three on the ANC’s province to province list for the May 8 elections and its former KZN deputy provincial secretary — appeared briefly along with Harry Gwala municipal manager Zwelibanzi Sikhosana, businessperson Mbulelo Mpofana and former South African Police Service tactical response team (TRT) member Sibonelo Myeza.
The four are accused of murdering Magaqa and attempting to murder councillors Nontsikelelo Mafu and Jabulile Msiya in an ambush in July 2017 in the southern KwaZulu-Natal town. Magaqa died from his injuries two months later while both Mafu and Msiya were wounded but survived.
A fifth accused has reportedly turned state witness and did not appear in court with the four.
Ndobe and his co-accused were not asked to plead.
They will all be remanded in custody until March 25, when they will make a bail application.
Prosecutor Shohana Moodley said the four had been charged with premeditated murder, a Schedule 6 offence, which meant that they would have to show exceptional circumstances if they were to be granted bail.
Ndobe sat silently in the dock as the packed courtroom strained to hear Moodley and defence lawyers address Judge Riazz Essack, who remanded the accused in custody until Monday when all four accused will apply for bail.
Moodley said there were other suspects still at large and whose roles in the murder and attempted murders are still under investigation.
A heavily armed contingent from the Hawks national task team, which has been investigating the ongoing political murders in the province, maintained tight control over the courtroom and the area outside court, where supporters of both Ndobe and Magaqa had gathered in numbers.
Contingents from the Democratic Alliance, United Democratic Movement and the Economic Freedom Fighters also picketed outside the court, breaking into loud cheers when news reached them that the accused would spend the weekend in jail.
At the time of Magaqa’s killing, his friends and comrades claimed publicly that he and other councillors, including speaker Khaya Thobela, had been murdered over their attempt to expose corruption in the refurbishment of the Umzimkhulu Memorial Hall. The cost of the hall spiralled from around R4-million to R37-million.