/ 6 September 2023

Cele: Police secure 100 KZN political killing convictions

Bheki Cele
Police Minister Bheki Cele. (Michele Spatari/AFP)

KwaZulu-Natal’s political killings are linked to hitmen in the taxi industry and construction mafia and the threat to their victims often rises from competition in their own political party’s rank and file, Police Minister Bheki Cele said on Wednesday.

Cele said police are closing in on hitmen and those who order political killing contracts in KwaZulu-Natal and have secured 100 convictions that have seen more than 1 500 years in prison sentences being handed down in court.

But Cele says many of the hitmen who face criminal cases appear to have been bankrolled by people higher up in criminal syndicates, who may be behind those who ordered the hits on municipal officials, councillors and traditional leaders in the province. 

Cele was speaking at a media briefing in Durban on behalf of the inter-ministerial committee on political killings where he gave an update on the special task team that was formed in 2018 to investigate the scourge, saying it had so far investigated 321 dockets related to political murders and a further 89 parallel cases, some involving crimes in the realms of the taxi industry and construction mafia. 

The committee comprises ministers of police, state security, defence, justice and correctional services.

KZN police commissioner Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi and NPA senior state advocate Elvis Gcweka attended the media briefing. 

Cele said a further 63 dockets had been opened since the last update in February 2022, while 134 of the 321 cases the team was investigating had been reported between 2011 and June 2018 before it took over. The dockets include 155 cases of murder; 51 cases of attempted murder, 77 cases of intimidation, 12 cases of conspiracy to commit murder and 26 other ad hoc cases.

Investigations of the political killings revealed that the most affected political parties are the ANC, Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and National Freedom Party (NFP). Of the 52 councillor murder cases, 31 were ANC, 14 were IFP, four were NFP, two were from the Economic Freedom Fighters, and one was from the African Christian Democratic Party.
Cele said “alarmingly a further 103 officials working within municipalities as political office bearers and officials in political offices have been killed”. 

“So far the work of the task team has resulted in the arrest of 348 suspects who have already been charged on 233 cases. For politically related cases and parallel cases of murder, attempted murder, intimidation, extortion, malicious damage to property, possession of unlicensed firearms and ammunition a total of 100 accused were found guilty on 94 cases,” Cele said.

He said the team had secured 18 life sentences; 34 accused have been sentenced between 10 to 73 years; 28 accused were handed down sentences between one to nine years with 15 accused sentenced between three to 12 months. All the sentences combined are 1 517 years imprisonment. However, some of the murderers’ life sentences run concurrently.

Cele said the cases could not be investigated in isolation as political killings were often committed by hitmen who were also involved in violent crimes in the taxi industry and construction mafia.

“In a continuous effort to reduce the political killings and at same time, reduce the proliferation of firearms within the province of KwaZulu-Natal and country at large, the task team is also investigating parallel cases, which are not related to the task team’s mandate but are linked with politically related cases with similar suspects and ballistic analysis,” Cele said.

A total of 85 parallel cases are being investigated.

“Over and above these parallel cases, the team continues to conduct intelligence driven operations, targeting unlicensed firearms, which has resulted in 86 cases being registered in this regard. The task team is conducting intelligence driven operations targeting possession of unlicensed firearms, which has resulted in 172 cases. Over 250 unlicensed firearms have been taken off the streets through police operations,” he said.

Cele said the team had worked hard to achieve these results as prior to its formation “there was not one conviction” of political killers.

“We know that cases were not properly investigated, which often led to suspects not being arrested. Most of these cases were closed undetected or withdrawn and some referred for inquest. Prior to the task team’s involvement … the cases simply fell through the cracks,” Cele said.

He said eight of the province’s 11 regions had stabilised since the team was formed but the “eThekwini Metropolitan remains an area of concern and the focus is now on this region to bring much needed stability”.

“The IMC is encouraged that interventions are in place to deal with all forms of politically related crimes, proactively and reactively in the eThekwini and in the Zululand District,” Cele said.

He said motives for political killings were linked to intra-political conflicts with a few cases linked to other motives, such as taxi violence, domestic issues, business competition for tenders, traditional leadership competition and family feuds.

“The majority of the murder cases reported after the 2016 and 2021 local government elections were associated with infightings within structures and municipalities over positions. Violent competition between business forums over community development projects or tenders was also noted as possible motives … seemingly, there are pockets of society where the barrel of the gun and not negotiations decides coalitions.”

He said current tensions within and between political parties was due to unstable local coalition governments.

Cele said since the last IMC update there had been “significant movement” on 17 high profile cases including the following murder convictions:

• Ntsazane Mthetiswa, Gutshana Zwelandile, Mcobothi Aphelile and Ntsethe Bonasile (ANC members) were found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of EFF member Mbhobo Sbusiso.

  • Sphamandla Ngcobo, a hitman, was found guilty and sentenced to a total of 63 years imprisonment for the murder of ANC member Nandipha Bongekile Khema.
  • Thembelani Headman Dlamini, a notorious hitman, former police officer, turned politician IFP/NFP official was found guilty and sentenced to a total of 65 years for the murder of Mmeli Xaba and other related crimes.
  • Felokwakhe Ndlovu, Induna of Kwandengezi, was found guilty and sentenced to a total of 70 years imprisonment with three other accused for the murder of ANC Branch Chairperson Thulani Nxumalo and other related crimes. 
  • Fisokuhle Nkani Ntuli, a notorious hitman was found guilty and sentenced to a total of 189 years imprisonment for the murder of ANC councillor Thami Nyembe and five others. Ntuli is currently before the court and is one of five accused in the Senzo Meyiwa murder trial.

Cele added that the team is also closing in on perpetrators ordering hits on victims and had made arrests in 10 cases, including:

  • Businessman and chairperson of UMkhanyakude Business Forum Nkosibeyiphika Elijah Mkhwanazi was arrested and charged with three others for the murder of IFP member and businessman Thelumusa Mahlaba and the murder of IFP member and businessman Siyabonga Sizwe “Sizuzalo” Mthiyane.
  • Businessmen Thokozani Tokyo Dlamini and Comfort Mqwembe Mdlalose were arrested and charged for murder of former IFP ward councillor Reginald Ngema. 
  • ANC councillor Nkosinathi Gambu was arrested and charged with four other accused for the murder of former ANC ward councillor Qashana Mchunu. 
  • ANC councillor Mkhipheni Mzimuni Ngiba has been arrested and charged with four other accused for the murder of ANC councillor candidate Siyabonga Mkhize and ANC Supporter Mzukisi Nyanga.
  • ANC councillor Themba Mnguni was arrested and charged with five other accused for the murder of three ANC members, Ncamisile Shandu, Beatrice Nzama and Philisiwe Jili and attempted murder of five other people.
  • ANC councillor Thulani Holi Shozi was arrested and charged for the murder of ANC Youth League secretary Kingdom Thamsanqa Gcabashe and Metro police officers Lindokuhle Madonsela and Ndumiso Thusi.
  • Businessman and ANC member Mbulelo Mpofana was arrested and charged with three additional suspects for the murder of former ANC Youth League Secretary General Sindiso Magaqa. 
  • The former ANC Ladysmith mayor Vincent Madlala was arrested and charged for obstructing and defeating the ends of justice as well as being in unauthorised possession of his daughter’s firearms. 
  • Taxi owner Siyanda Wiseman Thusi  has been arrested and charged with three others for the murder of IFP councillor Robert Sibani Mdletshe.

Cele said the risk to potential victims was often from their own political party’s rank and file.

“We are calling on political parties — political parties know who these people are and some of them make big shout outs to say, ‘where are the police?’ But they know they are part of the trouble, yet they go to the podium. Some of them have increased the security around them because they are threatened, not by the other parties but by their own within. 

“We will give them the evidence to show them they don’t have to look very far but to look close and to say stop shouting on the outside but on the inside where the trouble is,” he said.

Cele said the IMT was calling on the political community to exercise tolerance before, during and after the upcoming national election in 2024.

Gcweka said the NPA was making progress expediting cases but was often plagued by the delaying tactics of hitmen who hired top lawyers in the province to defend them, indicating that there were further “wealthy layers” within the political killing syndicates ordering hits.

“We have a scourge of enablers that are providing financial means to the hitmen. We need to be able to identify those who are funding these people,” he said.