DURBAN, April 26 – Five of the men accused of being part of a mafia-style gang that allegedly terrorised residents at the notorious Glebelands Hostel at Umlazi, south of Durban, were denied bail in the Durban Regional Court on Thursday.
All of the accused are being charged with conspiring to commit murders and attempted murders that took place at the hostel between 19 August 2014 and 26 March 2016.
According to the charge sheet, Khayelihle Mbuthuma, Vukani Mcobothi, Eugene Wonderboy Hlophe, police detective Bhekukwazi Louis Mdweshu, Ncomekile Ntshangase, Mbuyiselwa Mkhize and Mondli Mthethwa conspired to form a syndicate with the common purpose to kill Glebelands’ residents in order to take control of the hostel and acquire control of payments made by hostel dwellers.
Accused one, Mbuthuma, was found guilty of murder earlier in the month and was sentenced to life imprisonment and thus he abandoned bail. Accused seven, Mthethwa, is also facing another murder charge and abandoned his bail bid.
Taking two hours to reach his decision, Magistrate Siphiwe Hlophe said grounds for denial of bail were that the five bail applicants (of seven accused) had not proven “exceptional circumstances” for release, considering the gravity of the charges.
“The appointment of the Moerane Commission [investigating political killings in KwaZulu-Natal since 2011] is a clear indication that there are murders at Glebelands,” said Hlophe.
Hlophe gave the background to violence at the hostel complex and how repeated attempts by the fearful community to report incidents went unheard by the provincial offices of the South African Human Rights Commission, eThekwini Metro and police watchdog IPID (Independent Police Investigative Directorate).
Despite a high level political intervention by the KZN Premier’s office in 2014, the violence continued, said Hlophe.
“Between 1 May 2014 and 18 January 2016, 32 cases of murder were reported and 47 attempted murders at Glebelands. Attempts to stop violence clearly failed,” he said.
Hlophe also summed up the State’s evidence, saying the prosecution was convinced the accused operated a criminal enterprise and would intimidate residents at meetings with “firearms and other weapons”.
Hlophe said there were at least two witnesses for each count the men were charged with.
He said it was only after the Public Protector investigated the complaints and a report was released last year that the police escalated the matter for investigation by a handpicked investigation team.
One of the key reasons the state opposed bail, besides the severity of the crimes the men are accused of, was to avoid interference with witnesses.
Hlope said the accused may claim not to know the witnesses but they were aware that the witnesses belonged to an “opposing faction” within the hostel. Considering they all faced life imprisonment, there was an incentive to interfere with witnesses.
The matter was postponed until 31 May for a possible decision on a date for trial at the high court.