A shift in power at Glebelands Hostel (part 1)

Block R crime scene: the Glebelands 7 are accused of the attempted murder of 4 residents on 19 August 2014 during which Mdweshu was allegedly injured and used a false medical certificate to explain his absence from work. His DNA was lifted from the scene. Photo by Vanessa Burger

In December 2017 Glebelands rogue cop, the detective from Durban Central SAPS, Sgt Bhekukwazi Mdweshu and 6 other alleged hitmen were arrested and charged with 19 counts of murder, attempted murder, possession of prohibited firearms and ammunition as well us under the Riotous Assemblies Act for conspiring to eliminate Glebelands residents. They have become known as the Glebelands 7. Two of the 7 are also charged with other Glebelands murder cases, of which one was recently sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of a Glebelands grandmother in 2017. Bail applications for the remaining 5 are ongoing.

glebelands hostel, Umlazi V, Umlazi, South Africa

Since 2014, the SAPS and police watchdog, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), rejected countless claims of officers’ collusion with Glebelands-based hitmen. But in December 2017, after more than 100 deaths, the SAPS finally moved against their own and rounded up seven alleged killers – including a Glebelands rogue cop. The accused are currently awaiting the court’s decision regarding their bail applications.

In a series of articles on the Glebelands 7, Elitsha will unpack the case as it proceeds through the criminal justice system.

According to the SAPS media statement: “On Wednesday 6 December 2017 members from the Provincial Organised Crime Task Team, Special Task Force, Provincial Tracking Team, National Intervention Unit, Counter Intelligence, Umhlali K9, Empangeni K9 and Operational Command Centre conducted pre-dawn raids at Harding and Glebelands Hostel… [where] they arrested a 29-year-old suspect… a 45-year-old suspect… [and] a 34-year-old suspect.

During a search, a police cap, two police reflector jackets, a state-issued laptop as well as a number of internal police correspondences were seized. On Thursday 7 December the team proceeded to the Durban Central Police Station where they arrested a 37-year-old police officer who is also linked to the shootings in Glebelands.”

So began Durban Magistrate’s Court Case Number RC 03/2018, the State versus Bhekukwazi Louis Mdweshu (Sgt), Eugene Wonderboy Hlophe, Vukani Mcobothi, Khayelihle Mbuthuma, Ncomecile Matlala Ntshangase, Mbuyiselwa Mahliphiza Mkhize and Mondli Talente Mthethwa.

The community is elated at the removal of some of the hostel’s most feared contract killers, but also expressed a cynical belief that the charges would not stick, as well as anger that it had taken so long.

“Did they have to wait until so many of us had died?” raged a community leader.

“They said there was no evidence [of police involvement], but how many times did we tell them? During raids in 2016 they found police radios, guns and an army uniform.” (Accused Number 5, Ntshangase, a brother of Mdweshu and a PRASA employee, was formerly a member of the SANDF).

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Sources close to the suspects reported that the arrests had caused an exodus of panicked hitmen still staying at the hostel – unfortunately, not for long.

“Initial investigations revealed the killings were orchestrated in an organized fashion” – SAPS media statement

The Glebelands 7 were charged under the Riotous Assemblies Act (17 of 1956) for conspiring “…to form a syndicate with the common purpose to kill persons residing at Glebelands Hostel,” as well as 9 counts of murder and 7 counts of attempted murder.

Mthethwa was additionally charged with the unlawful possession of a prohibited firearm, a semi-automatic 9mm pistol and 15 rounds of ammunition. Because of pre-existing murder and attempted murder charges, Mthethwa did not apply for bail.

“Investigators encountered countless difficulties in trying to untangle the web surrounding the Glebelands murders, which included reluctant witnesses, missing witnesses, witnesses being killed as well as negative perceptions from different sectors of the community…” – SAPS media statement

In his affidavit opposing bail, investigating officer, Provincial Organised Crime Unit detective, Lt Col Bhekumuzi Sikhakhane explained that his team’s mid-2017 intervention stemmed from “matters not being satisfactorily investigated at station level.”

During testimony to the Moerane Commission in July last year, a hostel whistleblower confirmed that, “the policeman living in Glebelands … would bring in R4 and R5 rifles which would be used in the killing of residents. [He] would intimidate people to contribute to buy guns, ammunition, and to pay suspects’ bail.” He alleged that hitmen recruited by the officer were also used in KZN’s political killings.

Sikhakhane listed some of the challenges his team had encountered: “[There was] a lack of trust on account of the conduct of those officers previously seized with these matters … it took time to identify witnesses who would be prepared to assist us … given the levels of intimidation.”

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To date, at least six witnesses have lost their lives.

“Some of the murders which occurred at Glebelands Hostel were not the normal kind of murders.” – SAPS media statement 

In their bail application, the accused claimed they were victims of ‘biased’ police acting in the interests of the opposing Glebelands “warring faction” – the false narrative proffered by corrupt police and state officials since 2014 as motive for the carnage. One of the accused also suggested he deserved bail because he had complied with conditions imposed when previously charged with murder.

Interestingly, while Mcobothi, Mkhize and Mthethwa are represented by Legal Aid lawyers, Mdweshu, Hlophe, Ntshangase and Mduthuma have secured the services of top criminal defense lawyer, Advocate Jimmy Howse. Howse has previously defended the Gcaba brothers, the Mpisanes, the Three Amigos, Thoshan Panday and other notorious, high profile characters and does not come cheap.

In a recent letter to the SAPS Legal Services, KZN Monitor Mary de Haas asked if the SAPS were paying Mdweshu’s legal fees. The police have not responded.

It would seem not all hitmen are regarded equally by those calling the shots.

Although the hostel slaughter has abated somewhat in the wake of the arrests, five more residents have been murdered since the beginning of the year. It is therefore evident, that, despite the removal of some of Glebelands’ most accomplished killers, their reign of terror is by no means over. Their handlers are clearly still at large and will go to any lengths to obstruct the course of justice. It would also seem that whoever is funding Mdweshu and his co-accused’s defense, has an interest in maintaining the flow of blood in KZN.

Decisions regarding bail will be made on 26 April. Watch this space as the case unfolds.

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