/ 22 March 2019

Three mayors investigated for murders

Accused: The mayor of Harry Gwala district
Accused: The mayor of Harry Gwala district, Mluleki Ndobe (centre), has been arrested. Newcastle mayor Ntuthuko Mahlaba and Durban mayor Zandile Gumede are also suspected of foul play. Photo: Mlungisi Mbele

Two more ANC mayors are being investigated for murder by a task team probing political killings in KwaZulu-Natal, following the arrest of Harry Gwala district municipality mayor Mluleki Ndobe this week for the murder of former ANC Youth League secretary general Sindiso Magaqa.

READ MORE: Magaqa murder accused, three others appear in court

Ndobe was number three on the ANC’s list of candidates for the province’s legislature after the elections.

ANC spokesperson Gugu Simelane-Zulu said the party was “shocked and embarrassed” by the arrest of Ndobe. She said the provincial leadership would hold an executive committee meeting to discuss the matter “soon”.

Also being investigated is Newcastle mayor Ntuthuko Mahlaba for the murder of former eMalahleni youth league leader Wandile Ngubeni in 2016.

In a separate investigation, the task team is looking into links between eThekwini ANC chair and Durban mayor Zandile Gumede and the murder of ANC ward 88 councillor S’bu Maphumulo in September.

Mahlaba, the chair of the eMalahleni region, in which Newcastle falls, was elected mayor last month, replacing Makhosini Nkosi, who resigned after receiving death threats.

An impeccable source in the National Prosecuting Authority told the Mail & Guardian this week that the probe into Mahlaba — who has laid complaints with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate about the conduct of the investigators — is complete and that preparations are under way for him to make a court appearance in Newcastle within two weeks.

Two other people had already been arrested for the murder of Ngubeni: Mahlaba’s bodyguards Cebo Xulu and Sibusiso Sibiya were granted bail of R2 000 in February.

Sibiya was rearrested some weeks ago, along with another bodyguard, Cebo Buthelezi, in connection with the murder of ANC councillor Thembi Mbongwa. They were granted bail.

The investigation into Durban mayor Gumede, who remains loyal to former president Jacob Zuma, and the murder of S’bu Maphumulo is less advanced.

Two officials close to Gumede — her political adviser Mlu Ntombela and spokesperson Mthunzi Gumede — have been questioned. Ntombela has approached the high court for an interdict, claiming that he was being harassed to force him to implicate the mayor falsely in the killing.

Three suspects for this murder had already been picked up by members of the National Intervention Unit, which falls under the Hawks, on December 14: ANC ward 88 councillor Mthokozisi Nojiyeza, his brother Phumlani and Nkosinathi Mbambo.

On the same day, members of the unit attempted to interview Ntombela and mayor Gumede at City Hall, but they were not present.

Nojiyeza and his co-accused have been remanded in custody until they appear in the Umlazi magistrate’s court again on April 2.

In an affidavit, Ntombela said his home had been raided on February 2.

He said he had been interrogated for several hours and that officers had attempted to force him to make a statement implicating the mayor in the murder of Maphumulo.

They also questioned him about claims that the mayor was paying for advocate Simphiwe Mlotshwa, who represented the Nojiyezas in their bail application. Mlotshwa has, according to the affidavit, also been appointed to represent the mayor.

Ntombela said he had eventually signed a statement “out of fear” and had been interrogated on several occasions subsequently. He was released without charge.

“I have been subjected to severe anxiety, humiliation and prejudice through the unlawful conduct of the police, who are yet to provide any solid reason why I should be arrested or detained,” he said.

Judge Dhaya Pillay, in the high court in Durban, granted an interim order preventing the Hawks from “threatening, harassing or intimidating” Ntombela or his family. The matter will be back in court on May  3.

On Monday, the task team interrogated the mayor’s spokesperson, Mthunzi Gumede, and confiscated his cellphone, according to three sources in the municipality.

“Mthunzi has been away from work since the detectives came to interview him on Monday,” said one city official, who is not authorised to speak to the media.

The unit investigating political killings consists of investigators and specialists from the Hawks and other agencies and was appointed by Police Minister Bheki Cele.

Cele’s spokesperson, Reneilwe Serero, declined to comment on the Mahlaba or Gumede matters, saying: “The ministry of police does not comment on investigations.”

Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said he could not comment on investigations being carried out by the task team.

Last week Gumede’s office issued a statement on her behalf, saying that the court application by Ntombela was evidence of a politically inspired conspiracy to unseat her.

“It is alleged that … my political adviser and his family were terrorised by Hawks investigators because he refused to implicate myself in the political killing of a ward councillor,” it read.

“In view of the judgment, I have urgently requested legal advice in the light of these spurious and senseless allegations.”

The statement quoted Gumede as saying that Ntombela had been “allowed some space to deal with the matter while he and his family are receiving counselling”.

“For a long time my name has been subjected to the court of public opinion. The recent events are testimony to the fact that there are forces hard at work, operating and conniving in dark corners.

“Clearly, they are using all dirty tactics with an aim of removing me as the mayor and the chairperson of the ANC in eThekwini region. They want to achieve their goal by hook or crook and are assisted by unscrupulous elements using state security and the public purse as a tool,” the statement concluded.

Ntombela, Mthunzi Gumede and Mahlaba had not responded to calls from the M&G at the time of writing.

Ndobe and his co-accused, Umzimkhulu municipal manager Zwelibanzi Sikhosana, businessman Mbulelo Mpofana and former police officer Sibonelo Myeza will appear in the Umzimkhulu magistrate’s court on Monday to apply for bail.

The four are charged with murdering Magaqa and attempting to murder Umzimkhulu ANC councillors Nontsikelelo Mafu and Jabulile Masiya in an ambush in the southern KwaZulu-Natal town in 2017.

Prosecutor Shohana Moodley told the court that other suspects in the Magaqa killing were still at large and were being sought by the task team.

She said the state would oppose bail and that the four were being charged with premeditated murder, a schedule six offence, which meant they would have to prove exceptional circumstances to be granted bail.