25 years for ‘savage act of xenophobia’

2013-03-20 00:00

THE murder of Ethiopian Thomas Ebamo, who was tied to the rear of a vehicle by his neck and dragged to his death in the Ixopo district last year appeared to have been an “extreme and savage act of xenophobia”.

So said Acting High Court Judge Igna Stretch when she sentenced one of the killers, Siyabonga Mtshali (24), to an effective 25 years’ imprisonment for robbing and killing Ebamo on May 3, 2012.

Ebamo’s brother, Birihanu Tamrat, and two cousins attended the trial.

An Amharic interpreter told the media later that they didn’t want to comment, but said Tamrat had indicated that he was “disappointed”.

Mtshali pleaded guilty and described in a detailed statement how he and three others had decided to rob Ebamo, who sold pots and carpets from his Toyota Corolla.

They did so on a pretext of posing as customers.

Near the Mondi forest in the Ncakubana area they grabbed Ebamo and forced him into the back seat of his vehicle. Mfano Hadebe tied his hands with a jacket.

Mtshali said they drove towards the Nkolomba forest. At a secluded place Ebamo was taken from the vehicle and laid next to it.

Hadebe cut a piece of seatbelt from the car.

Mtshali said he saw Hadebe and Mzayifani Tenza tie the belt around Ebamo’s neck and then to the rear of the car.

“Hadebe then drove a short distance dragging [Ebamo] behind. When he stopped I observed the deceased was dead,” said Mstshali.

The body was placed in a drainpipe and concealed with leaves and branches.

It was found 10 days later when Mtshali led police to the spot.

Stretch said the post-mortem report recorded soil grazes and abrasions “to most parts” of Ebamo’s body, and noted that his hands had been tied behind his back and a flat nylon rope tied around his neck. The cause of death was a head injury.

There was no doubt in her mind that Ebamo had been dragged behind a vehicle as Mtshali described.

“The pain and suffering he must have gone through must have been excruciating,” Stretch added.

She said Mtshali and his accomplices had initially planned to rob Ebamo of his car. It did not follow that in order to prevent him from identifying them that they had to do what they did.

“In my mind this was an extreme and savage act of xenophobia.”

Stretch agreed with the submissions by Mtshali’s legal aid lawyer, Kelvin Singh, that compelling circumstances existed in his case that justified a lower sentence than life imprisonment.

These were that he pleaded guilty, helped police locate the body and that he played a “secondary” role in the murder.

The judge said she expected Mtshali to honour his undertaking to testify against the other accused, one of whom is his blood brother, Cyprian Mtshali, who is being tried separately.

The Witness established from police that one of the alleged co-perpetrators, Mfano Hadebe, has died and that charges were previously withdrawn against Tenza due to lack of evidence.

• ingrido@witness.co.za

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