Four protected witnesses will form the backbone of the state’s case against the men alleged to be part of a criminal enterprise that included murder for hire at the notorious Glebelands Hostel complex in Umlazi, south of Durban.
The so-called Glebelands eight are facing nine counts of murder, seven of attempted murder and possession of illegal firearms and ammunition.
Their trial will start tomorrow at the Pietermaritzburg High Court following months of delays.
The state is expected to call more than 100 witnesses, but the four deemed crucial to the case have had their names scrubbed from affidavits.
All are former residents of the notorious hostel.
One witness who will testify, but is not one of the protected four, said he still looked over his shoulder when in public, despite all the accused being in jail.
The man spoke to City Press on condition of anonymity.
“Even children playing with firecrackers give me a fright. I get angry with my children when one of them drops something in the house. It startles me,” he said.
The man said that although he had not been threatened directly, he was told his name was on a witness hit list.
Glebelands was “much safer” since the accused had been incarcerated, he said.
The man took a swipe at accused number one, former plain clothes detective Bhekukwazi Mdweshu, who was based at Durban Central police station and used to live at Glebelands.
He was the alleged leader and recruiter of hitmen.
“He was dangerous; he used his knowledge of the law and his police training for ill.
“I suspect the people who hired these goons are still free. I believe the conspiracy goes higher up, including within the police. More information will come out at the trial,” he said.
Also said to be revealed at the trial would be how a politician had “cheered and celebrated” when “someone in particular” was murdered at the hostel.
Residents at the massive, grotty complex – an ANC stronghold – told City Press that the mention of Mdweshu’s name still made their skin crawl.
“There is a big change now, not with service delivery, but there is now that peace from violence. But we are not totally safe yet. There are still those [who were imprisoned] and have been released on bail or acquitted who are hunting us, but not like it was before,” a Glebelands resident told City Press.
Mdweshu will face trial with Khayelihle Mbuthuma (28), Vukani Mcobothi (30), Eugene Wonderboy Hlophe (45), Ncomekile Matlala Ntshangase (34), Mbuyiselwa Mahlipiza Mkhize (29), Mondli Talente Mthethwa (29) and Bongani Mbele (33).
The men have been charged with common purpose for crimes that took place at the hostel between August 2014 and March 2016.
Mdweshu faces one count of racketeering for being the alleged leader of the cabal, along with since-deceased Bonga Hlophe, the leader of the “Hlophe gang”. Hlophe was assassinated by the rival “Mthembu gang” in 2015; William Mthembu, leader of the “Mthembu gang”, was assassinated in the same year.
The gangs would allegedly battle over the lucrative cash collections that they imposed on the hostel’s thousands of residents. Mdweshu “played a leading role” in the extortion of residents, according to the indictment.
It was learnt during bail applications last year that DNA linked Mdweshu to at least one of the murder scenes.
Mdweshu and Ntshangase have brought in a big legal gun by obtaining the services of well-known defence advocate Martin Krog.
Legal Aid SA advocate Dianne Franklin will act for Hlophe. Franklin’s legal aid counterpart, attorney Xolani Sindane, will act for the remainderof the accused.
Numbers concerning the actual murder rate at the hostel remain sketchy – and controversial.
A 2017 Public Protector report found that between May 1 2014 and January 18 2016, 32 murders and 47 attempted murders had taken place.
It was this report that sparked investigations into the killings.
There is no consensus over whether the killings were politically motivated, although allegations abound of hitmen being hired to kill politicians.
At the Moerane Commission of Inquiry into political killings, evidence leader Bheki Manyathi said in his closing arguments that the hostel was central to the violence in KwaZulu-Natal.
Community activist Vanessa Burger, who has been working with the Glebelands community for years, placed the murder tally at more than 100, but emphasised that this included hitmen hired at Glebelands who worked throughout the province and included political killings.
Mbuthuma, accused two, who has already been sentenced to life for the murder of a Glebelands’ grandmother that falls outside the time frame for these prosecutions, said during that trial that he knew of 180 murders linked to the hostel.
The trial is set down to run until September 30 with Judge Nkosinathi Chili presiding.
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