Glebelands hitmen get life sentences for taxi killing

108 people across KZN have lost their lives in Glebelands-related killings since March 2014. Photo by Vanessa Burger

Many believe the Glebelands violence is driven by corruption, particularly involving construction tenders and unit allocation. The vast majority of residents killed were targeted because they opposed the ward councilor’s alleged corruption and nepotism.

glebelands hostel, Umlazi V, Umlazi, South Africa

On 18 May 2018, the Durban High Court handed down life sentences to Mxoleleni Hopeson Bhani (30) and his accomplice, Mbheko Duma (31) for the murder of Lamontville Taxi Association chairman, Vela Ndebele on 11 June 2015. Bhani and Duma’s successful prosecution is the latest in what has become a noteworthy change in police and judicial commitment to ridding Glebelands Hostel of hitmen who have claimed the lives of more than 100 people across KwaZulu-Natal.

“So young, but so cruel,” remarked a Glebelands Hostel community member when he learned of the most recent convictions. Bhani was in his early 20s when he embarked on a life of crime.

Bhani and Duma also received 15 years for possession of 2 unlicensed firearms and 4 years for possession of ammunition. In September 2017, Bhani was also sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of hostel resident Sipho Ndovela, whom he gunned down at the entrance of the Umlazi Magistrate’s Court on 18 May 2015.

Hours before Ndebele died, Bhani and Duma had attacked a Block O resident as he was preparing to go to work at about 05h30. The resident (who still cannot be named) was shot in the neck and arm and remained in a critical condition in hospital under police guard for some time after the attack. He later underwent numerous operations to regain use of his arm and had to be placed in witness protection because of continued threats to his life. Bhani was later sentenced to 12 years for this attempted murder.

After the Block O shooting, Bhani and Duma had gone directly to the Gwala Street Community Hall in Lamontville where a taxi association meeting was taking place. Shortly after 10h00, as he left the hall, Ndebele was shot dead in a hail of bullets. Although Bhani and Duma fled the scene, local community members apprehended them and handed them over to the Metro Police Dog Unit, SAPS K9 and Tactical Response Team members who responded to the incident. Both were found in possession of unlicensed firearms and ammunition. Bhani was apparently severely bitten by a police dog while trying to escape.

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During trial, High Court Judge Kate Pillay, expressed astonishment at Bhani’s ability to isolate his targets from among a crowd (no bystanders in either Ndovela or Ndebele’s murders were injured during the attacks). Bhani simply stood up and smiled. Hitmen with such precision are sought after for their skill

In his defence, Bhani had tried to convince the court that he had been framed for these murders because he had opposed ‘bed selling’ at Glebelands – incidentally the same defence proffered by the ‘Glebelands 7’, currently before the Durban Magistrate’s Court. Bhani claimed he and Duma had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time when arrested for Ndebele’s murder.

However, Investigating Officer, Detective Warrant Officer Vusumuzi Madonsela, described how Glebelands hitmen routinely used fear, intimidation and even murder of witnesses to hamper investigations and evade justice.

Ndebele – who was not a hostel resident – was killed in a taxi-related hit. He did not ‘sell beds’ nor have direct links to Glebelands. Like many other murders across KZN – including several so-called political killings and other taxi hits – Ndebele’s assassins were sourced from Glebelands simply because the hostel has become a well known source for contract killers, and because, until recently, there has been little political will or police commitment to end the lawlessness. Yet, ANC provincial leaders and their friends in SAPS management continue the false narrative that the carnage flowing from Glebelands is all about ‘bed selling.’

It is hoped that Police Minister Bheki Cele’s recent appointments of respected gang-buster, Major General Anthony Jacobs as head of the deeply corrupted crime intelligence division, and, closer to home, former acting national commissioner, Lieutenant General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi as KZN’s new acting provincial commissioner, will see an end to politically tainted policing. Mkhwanazi has a strong anti-corruption history, which, after only 6 months in his former position as top cop, saw former president Jacob Zuma quickly replace him with a series of more compliant – and criminally compromised – sycophants. In KZN particularly, strong, ethical policing is critical to stand firm against the KwaZuma mafia and staunch the flow of blood from our province.

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As a community leader remarked hopefully after Mkhwanazi’s appointment: “I think Bheki Cele has seen the reason why KZN police did not do their job – because puppet police will not arrest any government officials who are involved in conspiracies to kill people who oppose them.”

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