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Four vigilante murder accused have been celebrated as heroes in Mdantsane, East London. Hundreds of residents from various units in Mdantsane, the second largest township in South Africa after Soweto in Gauteng, flocked the Mdantsane magistrates’ court to support Xolile Bala (57), Sipho Mtali (44), Buntu Kamlana (31), and 29-year-old Zimbabwean national, Thomas Bvukyimhuru, when they made their third court appearance on Thursday.

The four are charged with two counts of murder, kidnapping and assault for killing Makhaya Bomvana, a security guard working night-shift at the Golden Highway shopping centre. The 38-year-old Makhaya was suspected of working hand-in-hand with criminals to gain entry on July 8 to some shops in the centre.

Neighbourhood watch members reportedly pounced on him at his workplace, tied him up with a rope, assaulted him and paraded him at the centre before killing him using pangas, sjamboks and stones.

Police spokesperson, Captain Nkosikho Mzuku confirmed the arrests saying other victims have since come forward saying they had been assaulted by the same members of the neighbourhood watch. Mzuku said another person was assaulted on 24 July 2021, and in this case “it is alleged that the suspects assaulted the victim accusing him of house breaking in NU2”. He said the 35-year-old victim was hospitalised with both his legs broken. His sister opened a case on his behalf on 3 August 2021. Mzuku said the same community patrollers had on 6 August 2021, assaulted another victim in NU1, a 24-year-old, “accusing him of transporting the stolen property and he sustained head injuries”.

Nomathemba Bomvana, mother to the deceased Makhaya, said she finds it difficult that residents would support murderers. “I am heartbroken. No parent should have to go through what I am dealing with. If he was guilty of anything, they should have informed law enforcement. They have no right killing, even assaulting,” said Nomathemba.
She said her son “was killed like a dog”.

Mdantsane residents came out in large numbers to support the accused, to such an extent some businesses were closed and taxis operated only partially. Makhaya’s mother felt her safety was compromised, fearing people who were supporting the accused might be hostile towards her. “People are celebrating his death like he was no human. It’s strange how they support my child’s killers because he was not tried and tested in court for what they suspected him. The law must take its course and when found guilty, they must be sent to a long prison term,” she said.

Speaking on behalf of the protesters, Lwandiso Mafu told Elitsha he was happy with the turnout.
“People are contributing money to pay the lawyer and money for bail. We are getting support from the community because they know the streets are safe from criminals when we operate,” said Mafu.

A resident, Lumko Mavuso, said since the neighbourhood watch had stopped patrolling streets following the arrests, an increase in criminal activities was noticed. “We feel safe when they are operating because they are visible but now opportunistic criminals were taking advantage of the situation,” said Mavuso.

Magistrate Nolundi Mkwali postponed the bail application to 7 September for the investigating officer to conduct an Identity parade.