The eight men accused of allegedly planning and carrying out assassinations at Umlazi’s violence-riddled Glebelands Hostel, south of Durban, will face trial on September 3.
The Glebelands Eight, as they have become known, are facing 22 counts, including nine of murder, seven of attempted murder, racketeering, extortion and possession of illegal firearms and ammunition. The alleged crimes took place between August 2014 and March 2016. The men have all been charged with common purpose.
A guilty verdict would signal a turning point in rectifying historically sparse convictions for murders and attempted murders at the sprawling hostel – a filthy, poorly maintained complex of massive blocks of flats that have been described by many as unfit for human habitation.
Although views are divided on whether the exorbitant crime and murder rates at Glebelands are political, as maintained by some residents and activists, or “purely criminal”, as stated by the police’s provincial top brass.
The hostel came under intense scrutiny at the Moerane Commission of inquiry, tasked with investigating political violence in KwaZulu-Natal since 2011.
The public is still awaiting the final report of the commission – currently with premier Willies Mchunu after making its way through the provincial legislature – but it is hoped the resolutions from the report will change the fortunes of the estimated 22 000 residents crammed into the complex, which was built to accommodate about 12,000 people.
The reasons for the poor convictions are multiple and disputed. According to police, witnesses are reluctant to come forward for fear of reprisal. According to some residents and activists, a few local police are complicit in the offences.
There are also allegations of two “gangs” operating at Glebelands, each seeking out their share of cash through extortion and murder. Some of the killings have been attributed to rivalry and revenge attacks between gang members.
What cannot be disputed, however, is that one of the men who will face trial is detective constable Bhekukwazi Louis Mdweshu, once based at the Durban Central detective branch. According to his bail application affidavit, the South African Police Services employed Mdweshu since 2008.
The state has identified Mdweshu as the leader of the alleged hitmen.
According to the amended indictment: “Some time prior to the incidents which form the basis of the charges against the accused, the accused decided and conspired to form a syndicate or association or union with the common purpose to kill or eliminate persons who resided at Glebelands Hostel who threatened their control of the aforesaid hostel and their control of payments made by other dwellers at the hostel.”
“From time to time, the accused and other persons, known or unknown to the State, would summon other residents, who resided in the Glebelands Hostel complex, to meetings to announce that a collection of money was being made.
“Residents 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. At these meetings, some of the accused and other persons were armed with rifles and handguns to intimidate or threaten residents into making payment.”
Although he was a relatively senior cop with a salary to match, Mdweshu kept a room at the hostel until – according to him – 2015. Glebelands is supposed to accommodate low-income earners.
This, along with how another relatively high earning accused, employed by the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) on a salary of R18 000 per month before being arrested, also managed to keep a room at the hostel, is yet to be explained.
Mdweshu and the former Prasa employee, along with two other accused – one an employee at a warehouse based in Jacobs earning R3 300 a month and another employed as a security guard for R5 000 per month, managed to secure the services of a top criminal advocate, Jimmy Howse.
Howse – who does not come cheap – is currently also representing African National Congress KZN deputy chairman, Mike Mabuyakhulu, for his alleged role in a multi-million rand graft case dating back to his time as a member of the executive committee (MEC) of the premier of KwaZulu-Natal. Other more controversial clients include millionaire businessman Thoshan Panday, taxi boss and Jacob Zuma relative, Mfundo Gcaba and Shauwn Mpisane.
The Glebelands Eight case has not been without drama. In April, while arguing against bail for the suspects, seasoned state advocate Dorian Paver told the court that he had to be placed under 24-hour protection following the discovery of a hit being planned on his life.
It is understood that the alleged hit was organised by Mdweshu from Westville prison, via cellphone.
The Glebelands Eight are, in order of appearance: Bhekukwazi Louis Mdweshu (37); Khayelihle Mbuthuma (28); Vukani Manenze Mcobothi (30); Eugene Wonderboy Hlophe (45); Ncomekile Matlale Ntshangase (34); Mbuyiselwa Mkhize (29); Mondli Talente Mthethwa (29) and Bongani Mbhele (33).
The trial will take place at the Pietermaritzburg High Court, with 107 witnesses set to testify.