Magistrate tackles escapers

2014-03-11 00:00

CRIME-BUSTING justice officials at New Hanover Magistrate’s Court fought back when threatened by a bunch of escapees — one of whom overpowered a court orderly and robbed him of his gun.

The drama on Friday ended when the gunman — identified as Sabelo Cebekhulu (38) of Swayimane, Wartburg, — backed through a doorway into a courtyard in the cell area where he allegedly shot himself dead.

The reason for his suicide is not clear but may have been a panic reaction when he found that there was no way out to freedom.

New Hanover magistrate Rod Stewart meanwhile found himself face-to-face with the man’s three unarmed co-accused who stormed into his office from the courtroom where their fingerprints were being taken.

Though shocked and in fear at the time, Stewart says that in hindsight, he believes the trio were running from their gun-toting co-accused and were not intent on hurting him or escaping.

“Looking back I think that there was some sort of beef between them and the man who had the firearm,” he said.

He succeeded in shepherding the men out of his office and back into court.

There the court orderly was already blocking the gunman from getting back into the courtroom by holding the door to the cells closed with his foot.

Stewart said they could not find the key to the door at the time.

“I think he [the orderly] is the real hero of the occasion because he put his body on the line to make sure the armed accused could not get back inside,” he said.

The orderly’s name was not released since he could face internal disciplinary action arising from the robbery of his firearm by the accused.

“He was extremely shocked and he has taken a week’s leave to recover from what happened,” Stewart said.

The magistrate himself is apparently made from sterner stuff and is already back at work, although he admits he, and all the other court staff, were shaken by the incident.

Stewart is well known in the area, where he has served as a magistrate since 1988.

The drama unfolded at about 2.30 pm, a short while after Stewart had refused to grant the four accused bail and transferred their case to the high court for trial.

The four were indicted to appear in the Pietermaritzburg high court between April 14 and May 2 on charges of robbery with aggravating circumstances, double-murder, and (in relation to one accused only) unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition.

The three surviving accused — Vusimuzi Ndlovu (29), Mxolisi Ndlovu (21) and Sibusiso Ngubane (25) — will now stand trial on their own in connection with the robbery and murders of Fano Mkhize and his wife, Nobuhle Constance Ngubo at Hillerman Brothers farm, Wartburg, on June 16 last year.

The couple were shot dead in the course of being robbed of a cellphone and a safe containing a 9 mm pistol and R9 000 cash, as well as a Mazda bakkie.

According to the state’s indictment, Cebekhulu was allegedly involved in a “secret intimate relationship” with Nobuhle and after receiving information that her husband kept a large amount of money in a safe at their house, decided to rob him.

He allegedly obtained the services of the other three accused and the four of them drove to the couple’s home on the morning in question. They allegedly found the couple asleep. When Mkhize put up resistance both he and his wife were shot dead.

KwaZulu-Natal provincial police spokesperson Captain Thulani Zwane told The Witness an inquest docket has been opened in connection with the court shooting.

The circumstances surrounding the incident are still under investigation.

“It is alleged that … a policeman was working as a court orderly at New Hanover when a 38-year-old prisoner grabbed the member’s firearm and ran to the court cells and shot himself inside the cell. The firearm was also found in the cell next to the deceased,” he said.

He added that it was also “normal” for police in these circumstances to hold an inquiry into possible negligence on the part of the policeman who was robbed of his firearm.

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