As the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal prepares to dump murder- accused mayors ahead of the May 8 poll, the national director of public prosecutions (NDPP) Shamila Batohi wants to know why Harry Gwala district mayor Mluleki Ndobe was charged with murder without evidence.
On Monday, prosecutor Shohana Moodley provisionally withdrew the murder and attempted murder charges against Ndobe and against Harry Gwala municipal manager Zwelibanzi Sikhosana because there was insufficient evidence against them.
This is not the first high-profile arrest to be followed by a whimpering retreat from the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) — in January, the NPA withdrew corruption charges against former president Jacob Zuma’s son Duduzane, related to the alleged bribe offered to former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas. The NPA also withdrew fraud and theft charges against members of the Gupta family late last year in relation to the Estina dairy farm matter.
Restoring the NPA, racked for years by political interference, will be a rocky road.
Ndobe and Sikhosana were arrested in connection with the murder of former ANC Youth League secretary general Sindiso Magaqa and the attempted murder of councillors Nontsikelelo Mafu and Jabu Masiya.
The two appeared in the Umzimkhulu magistrate’s court with three others to make a bail application.
The shock dropping of charges sparked an investigation by Batohi.
NPA communication head Bulelwa Makeke said Batohi had expressed “extreme concern” over that matter.
She said Batohi had asked KwaZulu-Natal director of public prosecutions Moipone Noko why the two had been brought before the court if there was not sufficient evidence against them.
“The NDPP is worried the prosecution enrolled a matter without any evidence. That is not how we do things. She is waiting for a report on the matter as she does not understand how this happened,” Makeke said.
Withdrawing the charges, Moodley said it would be “unfair” to the accused to continue to hold them. There were gasps from the packed public gallery as Moodley said she was “not satisfied that the facts substantiate” the charges against the two, who were arrested on March 16.
The prosecution is trying Sibusiso Ncengwa, an alleged hitman, separately from former police officers Sbonelo Myeza and Mlungisi Ncalane and businessperson Mbulelo Mpofana. Another suspect, Sgoro Mdunge, was shot dead by police at a cash-in-transit robbery last year.
On Tuesday, Myeza made an application for bail, which was adjourned until April 8.
During the application, Moodley told Myeza, who refused to answer many questions because he did not want to incriminate himself, that the state had phone records that placed the accused at the scene of Magaqa’s ambush. Moodley said the state had a witness who was present when the hit was planned, and another would testify that Myeza had been instrumental in bringing on board Mdunge and Ncengwa.
Ncengwa, she said, was appearing in the Umzimkhulu regional court for the killing in a separate trial.
The separation of the trial appears to indicate the state is preparing to enter into a plea-bargain agreement with the alleged hitman in return for testimony against his fellow accused.
Ncengwa was arrested last year. He abandoned his bail application and the case was then adjourned for the indictment to be finalised by the state. His next appearance is on April 29.
Myeza and Mpofana were arrested shortly before Ndobe and Sikhosana were picked up on March 16.
Myeza conceded he had been in Umzimkhulu on the day Magaqa and his colleagues were ambushed and on several other occasions, saying he had been looking for a child he had fathered with a woman from the area. Myeza refused to explain more than 30 phone calls between himself and his co-accused on the day.
On Monday the mayor of Newcastle, Ntuthuko Mahlaba, appeared briefly in the Madadeni magistrate’s court in connection with the murder of ANC Youth League member Wandile Ngubeni in May 2016.
Mahlaba, who became mayor earlier this year after Makhosini Nkosi resigned over death threats, faces charges of murder, attempted murder and conspiracy. He will make a bail application on April 1.
Three of Mahlaba’s bodyguards, Cebo Xulu, Cebo Buthelezi and Sibusiso Sibiya, were arrested in connection with the attack and the killing of ANC councillor Thembi Mbongwa.
A task team has also questioned staff of Durban mayor Zandile Gumede as part of its investigation into the shooting of Umlazi councillor S’bu Maphumulo last October.
Mayoral adviser Mlungisi Ntombela, spokesperson Mthunzi Gumede and personal assistant Makhosi Maphumulo were all repeatedly interrogated by investigators wanting to know about the relationship between the mayor and the men arrested for the killing.
ANC councillor Phumlani Nojiyeza, his brother Mthokozisi and Nkosinathi Mbambo, arrested in December, will appear in court on April 2. The three failed to get bail in the Umlazi magistrate’s court.
Ntombela has secured an interim high court interdict against the task team, which he claimed harassed him in a bid to implicate the mayor.
Gumede, loyal to former president Jacob Zuma and increasingly out of step with the provincial leadership, has also claimed that she is the target of a political conspiracy.
Gumede’s supporters believe she is being targeted ahead of the eThe-kwini ANC regional conference, which will be held after the May elections, to ensure she is neutralised politically.
“They want to make sure eThekwini doesn’t oppose Cyril,’’ said one close associate, who asked not to be named. “We’ve had the Hawks investigating here, the SIU [Special Investigating Unit], now the task team. They want to arrest her — it’s clear.”
This week, the ANC in the province abandoned its previous stance and announced that any leaders charged with a serious offence should step down until the matter was concluded.
The decision was taken at an extraordinary meeting held this week in response to the arrest of Ndobe and Mahlaba and the news that three other mayors are being investigated for political killings.
KwaZulu-Natal ANC secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli said that “all comrades charged with serious crimes” would be required to “step aside from their positions […] pending the conclusion of their legal cases”.
Provincial ANC deputy chairperson Mike Mabuyakhulu had already declined his nomination because of an ongoing corruption case against him.
The decision may end up sparking a series of by-elections if it is implemented as a number of ANC councillors are appearing on murder and other charges in Pietermaritzburg, Durban and on the South Coast.