The criminal justice system is quick to blame its abysmal conviction rate of Glebelands suspects on reluctant witnesses. While this is indeed a contributing factor – and for good reason – the whole story is not being told.
Early last year a man was shot as he entered Glebelands. Later, Thabane* told the police a man he recognized as his former neighbour had “pointed him out” to the gunman.
Rumour had it that Thabane’s neighbour was a hitman, one of the many allegedly recruited, armed and inserted into the hostel by Durban Central SAPS detective, Bhekukwazi Mdweshu, or some of his recently arrested associates, to focus mainly on taxi-related assassinations. Sources throughout Glebelands began a careful search to find Thabane’s attacker.
A few months later Glebelands’s, deadly collections began at the thug-controlled old blocks at R50 a head. Hitmen were reportedly going from block to block demanding ‘donations’ for reasons no one knew. But everyone knew that as soon as collections began, it would only be a matter of time before someone was buried. And these collections were huge. It looked like someone important was the target.
In the meantime, the suspect in Thabane’s case was arrested. Thabane’s neighbour – the alleged accomplice – could not be found.
The next day Thabane was told to attend an identity parade to point out the man who shot him. But it was the day after a prominent ANC leader had been murdered and police who were working on Thabane’s case were called away to deal with the political killing, politicians’ cases being far more of a priority than hostel dwellers.
Thabane sat for hours at the police station. He had taken a day off work. Because he is not formally employed, this meant a day’s lost pay. As he waited in the charge office, Thabane suddenly noticed his attacker walk past him, seemingly about to leave the building. Thabane drew this to the attention of other officers nearby who had knowledge of his case and told them this was the suspect who had allegedly shot him. The man was rearrested, charged and returned to custody.
It is not easy being a Glebelands witness. Six so far have been killed before they could testify in court; t,e most high profile being Sipho Ndovela whose testimony ended in a pool of blood at the Umlazi Magistrate’s Court entrance in 2015.
Thabane had been offered witness protection. But, like many with vulnerable dependents and without formal employment or a sympathetic boss, witness protection was not economically viable. Thabane would just have to be careful. Very, very careful.
More rumours began circulating. The alleged accomplice in Thabane’s case had apparently made off with some of the money recently collected by the thugs. Effective police units from other areas had been withdrawn – coincidentally soon after thugs staged several protest marches demanding Glebelands be policed solely by local Umlazi SAPS officers, their friends. Tensions were running high at the hostel.
Thabane was scared. He knew he would soon have to go to court where his friend Sipho had died. He was confused when his investigating officer requested he attend another identity parade, this time at Durban Central where Mdweshu was employed. Had he not recently already identified the suspect? What was going on? Could his investigating officer be trusted? He had heard Mdweshu had a long reach and the suspect was supposedly one of his lieutenants. Perhaps Mdweshu would see him. Was this a trap? Thabane decided it would be best not to attend the identity parade. His family needed him. Who would look after them if he were killed?
Luckily Thabane’s investigating officer was one of the ‘good cops’, and, fully comprehending Thabane’s predicament, arranged for his protection before, during, and after the identity parade.
Then disaster struck. The day before the identity parade Thabane received a call from a crime intelligence officer long suspected of being closely associated with Mdweshu and his henchmen. The officer tried to get Thabane to disclose his whereabouts, to meet him to discuss his case.
Thabane became even more agitated. Why was this officer asking him about his case? Surely the docket was with his investigating officer? Why did the officer want to meet him? Why was he so interested in where he was?
Thabane went into hiding. The identity parade never happened.
The community rallied and explained what had happened to Thabane’s investigating officer, who later presented the circumstances to the magistrate and pointed out that as the suspect had already appeared in court shortly after the first failed identity parade, subsequent identity parades would have no value. The suspect also had a long list of pending cases for murder and attempted murder, some of which seemed to have been committed while previously out on bail.
The magistrate ordered that the suspect be remanded in custody until such time as a senior prosecutor could interview Thabane to ascertain if he had indeed positively identified the suspect as his attacker. A note to this effect was attached to the court file and Thabane waited for a date from the senior prosecutor.
Back at Glebelands, five more people were killed and six injured. Umlazi SAPS seemed to be the only police patrolling the hostel. More collections began, R30 this time. Some residents resisted and another three people lost their lives, three more were stabbed and many were threatened – pay up or die.
The day before Thabane was scheduled to meet the senior prosecutor, friends warned him – the suspect is out! He had been seen with his alleged accomplice at the hostel.
After the senior prosecutor interviewed him, Thabane politely asked what the point of all this was when the suspect had already been released. The prosecutor and investigating officer were aghast. They had clearly been kept in the dark.
Retracing events, Thabane learned that the suspect’s bail application had, for reasons unknown, been heard in court a few days before his appointment with the senior prosecutor. No one, it seems, had thought to notify the investigating officer, and although the prosecutor had apparently put up a fight, the magistrate had suddenly and inexplicably decided to reverse the previous order, ignore the note attached to the docket and dismiss the case from court.
The alleged hitman was a free man mere days after his alleged accomplice returned to Glebelands, reportedly sans the stolen collection money.
Police sources close to Glebelands investigations said: “We know these collections are used to buy guns and pay hitmen, also to bribe investigating officers to ‘kill’ a case, to pay prosecutors or even magistrates.”
Timing is everything. At Glebelands, timing is often all there is to hint at facts buried deep beneath layers of deceit, disinformation and fiction and this was hardly the first Glebelands suspect to be released under highly suspicious circumstances once his name hit the court roll.
Two months to the day after the release of the suspect, a man was killed while seated in his car near Block R. Community members who ran to his aid were furious when – despite the location of Glebelands’s new satellite police station only seconds from the crime scene – police took over an hour to respond, giving the gunman ample time to return and fire indiscriminately into the crowd, injuring another resident. This time there were many witnesses. The community chased the gunman but lost him after he ran past the Secureco METSU private security patrol vehicle parked at its usual spot opposite Block O.
Witnesses alleged the shooter was the very same person who had tried to kill Thabane a year before – the suspect only recently released by the Umlazi Court magistrate.
(*Names and details have been changed to protect the identities of those involved while the matter is ongoing.)