Ex-soldier in wheelchair faces life for taximan hit

2009-04-30 00:00

Wheelchair-bound former SANDF soldier Bhekizitha Bhengu (38) faces possible life imprisonment after being convicted by acting Judge Rose Mogwera yesterday of involvement in the assassination of a Pietermaritzburg taxi operator, Simphiwe Mkhize, who was shot dead in the presence of children outside his home near Caluza on April 20, 2002.

Mkhize died in Grey’s Hospital 12 days later on May 2.

Evidence accepted by the court was that the “hit” was performed at the behest of the late Jika Joe Dlamini, a prominent taxi operator in the capital and a rival of Mkhize, as their taxis operated on the same routes.

According to the evidence, Bhengu did not actively take part in the actual shooting, which was carried out by another SANDF member, Xolani Manyoni, and two other assailants, Richard Mathobi and accomplice turned state witness, Bhombela Khowane.

However, according to the state’s evidence, Bhengu urged the others not to tell Jika Joe Dlamini that he was not, in fact, present as he still wanted his share of the money they had been promised (R3 000 each).

Acting Judge Mogwera found that, despite the fact that Bhengu was not at the scene where Mkhize was killed, the evidence proved that he was part of the ongoing conspiracy to commit the murder, and remained a “willing participant” in the venture until Mkhize was shot dead.

The court heard testimony that several attempts were made to locate Mkhize to carry out the assassination at the taxi rank, prior to the decision to murder him at his home.

The judge said Bhengu’s conduct “spoke volumes” about his involvement.

It showed that not only was he willing to take part, but that he played a prominent role in ensuring that the plan came to fruition.

She said for that reason, the court found that he formed a common purpose with the killers and was guilty of murder and not merely of conspiracy to commit murder. Sentencing will take place on May 18.

Acting Judge Mogwera was urged to take into account, in Bhengu’s favour, the difficulties he would have to face in prison due to a medical condition and the fact that he is wheelchair-bound.

The judge was told the reason for his being in a wheelchair is unclear as he has not been said to have seen a specialist.

State advocate Dheelan Naidoo submitted that Bhengu is currently coping with prison life and suggested he will receive better medical care in prison than outside.

Naidoo urged the court to consider that Bhengu abused his position as a soldier, whose duty it was to safeguard the public, when he committed the murder.

He said the murder calls for a sentence of life imprisonment.

ingrido@witness.co.za

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