The National Prosecuting Authority in the Eastern Cape was forced to withdraw rape charges against Banele Mancoba, a leader of the infamous Mancoba “Seven Angels” ministries, due to lack of evidence.
Banele (30) is a key figure in the cult church that was at the centre of the brutal killings of five police officers at the Ngcobo Police Station in February this year.
He was charged with rape and other alternative charges of sexual grooming and sexual abuse.
A number of underage girls were rescued from the church during a police raid early this year including a young woman whom Banele is married to and was believed to have had sexual relations with him at an age deemed to be illegal at the time.
Read: How Ngcobo cult kept its sex slaves
Police also said they were investigating allegations of human trafficking in relation to the dozens of young women found at the church premises.
But after months of investigations against Banele who is said to be the leader of “the Seven Angels” [seven Mancoba brothers at the helm of the cult], the NPA declined to prosecute this week.
This means that Banele could soon be a free man. He is not linked to the main case of the killing of five police officers but to a separate case of conspiracy to committee robbery with aggravating circumstances which relates to an incident at a bus depot in December last year.
He is currently in custody pertaining to that case – which is less serious than the rape charge he was facing.
In the conspiracy to commit robbery case he is accused with his younger brother, Ephraim (23), [another of the seven angels] who also could not be linked with the main case of the police murders. They are accused with 10 others and their trial took place at Ngcobo Regional Court this week.
Another Mancoba brother, Phuthumile (31) also became a free man this week despite earlier being linked with the killing of the police officers when he was found with an unlicensed firearm.
The firearm found in his possession was positively identified as being one of the guns stolen at the police station when the police were killed, but Phuthumile was cleared of murder charges.
He was only found guilty of unlawful possession of a firearm, to which he confessed.
He was sentenced to two years in prison with an option of a R10 000 fine.
He paid the fine and is now a free man.
This means that the four Mancoba brothers – Banele, Phuthumile, Ephraim and Benjamin (22) – who were on the police radar at some stage for the killing of the officers are now all cleared.
At one stage, Benjamin was taken for questioning and immediately released.
Only the three deceased brothers who were killed in a shootout with police – Thandazile (38), Xolisa (37), and Philile (33) – are now believed to have been involved in the police massacre.
Police have failed to find any evidence linking the remaining brothers to the crime.
This leaves five followers of the Mancoba Seven Angels Ministry – who were also arrested at the church premises when police had a shootout out with the church members – as the main suspects in the police killings.
They are Andile Monco (30), Siphosomzi Tshefu (24), Kwanele Ndlwane (22), Siposihle Tantsi (20) and Phumzile Mhlatywa (46).
Several sources within the NPA and police said the investigators worked under pressure and made arrests in haste as they were trying to meet the 72-hour deadline which the police top brass had set for them to catch the killers. They were desperate to pin anything on the suspects and made mistakes in the process of the investigation.
On Tuesday Banele appeared before the Ngcobo Magistrate’s Court where dozens of church supporters and family members packed the court gallery.
Advocate Mbulelo Nyendwana for the NPA briefly addressed the court where he confirmed the state had withdrawn the charges against Banele.
When Magistrate Thobile Bara confirmed that the state had declined to prosecute the rape case, supporters could be head breathing a sigh of relief with some having broad smiles on their faces while others nodded in approval.
Bara asked Banele if he understood what was being said and Banele gestured to the court interpreter to repeat the verdict in IsiXhosa, after which he nodded and was whisked away from court by heavily armed police.
This was before Bara told him he would remain in custody in respect of the other case, which relates to the conspiracy to commit robbery in the bus depot which was still on trial before the Ngcobo Regional Court.
Luxolo Tyali, NPA Eastern Cape Mthatha regional spokesperson, confirmed that the case against Banele had been withdrawn due to lack of evidence and that they had accepted a plea bargain against Phuthumile.
“Phuthumile who was arrested along with five suspects accused of the murder of five policemen and robbery at the Ngcobo Police Station was sentenced to a term of two years imprisonment or an option of fine of R10 000 after he pleaded guilty to a charge of unlawful possession of firearm and defeating the ends of justice.
“He [Phuthumile] was arrested after he was caught by police with one of the firearms that were robbed from Ngcobo Police Station that was recovered from a pit toilet at his home. He confessed to that but there was no evidence linking him to the main charge of the murders at the police station. So, as the state we accepted his plea and he was sentenced,” he said.
Tyali said since the last time Banele appeared in court on the rape charge it was put on record that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) still needed to make a decision on whether to go ahead with the prosecution.
“After considering all the facts around the case and after conclusion of further investigations, the DPP was satisfied that there was no case against Banele Mancoba in relation to the rape or alternative charges of sexual grooming and sexual assault, hence it was formally withdrawn,” Tyali said.
He said in the beginning when the police effected the arrest of Banele, the prosecutor who looked at the docket at the time saw that there was a prima facie case for him to answer, but that hinged on further investigation such as proof of how old the girl [now his wife] was when she started engaging in sexual intercourse with him.
“And when we got the certificates and identity documents, there was no way we could charge Banele because the alleged victim said she did everything willingly and consented to the sex, marriage and that Banele never forced himself on her and she was old enough at the time – she was over 16 years and three days,” Tyali said.
Meanwhile the main case of the murder of the five police officers in Ngcobo is set to go on trial at the Mthatha High Court on April, 16.