Murdered hours after landing

2008-12-01 00:00

Within about five hours of landing in South Africa and telling a friend he was looking forward to playing golf in the sunshine, Austrian national Peter Burgstaller was shot dead on the 12th tee at Selborne Golf Estate on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast on November 23, 2007.

He was allegedly robbed of a cellphone and cash.

Brothers Mthokozisi Msani (25) and Simo Msani (25), both of Nkombo, Malangeni, not far from the estate, are on trial for the murder at the Ramsgate High Court before KZN Judge President Vuka Tshabalala and two assessors.

They pleaded not guilty to four charges of robbery with aggravating circumstances, murder, unlawful possession of a 9 mm semi-automatic firearm and unlawful possession of six rounds of 9 mm ammunition.

Representatives of the Austrian embassy in Durban and Pretoria, as well as a family friend of the victim, Otto Kantner, are attending the trial.

Mthokozisi Msani’s legal representative, Thulani Shange, said his client will tell the court he did not kill Burgstaller. He will say that he left his homestead to go to a nearby forest to collect firewood and picked up a Nokia cellphone in the forest, which he gave to his brother.

Simo Msani’s advocate, Philemon Ndlela, said his client too denies participating in the murder. He will say that on the evening in question his brother came home and gave him a cellphone. He was never aware it was linked to a crime. He was at a friend’s place of work and planning to charge the cellphone battery when police arrived, and he had co-operated with them.

It was explained to the two accused that if convicted they could face minimum sentences of 15 years’ imprisonment on each of the counts of robbery with aggravating circumstances and possession of the 9 mm firearm, and life imprisonment for murder.

Burgstaller’s South African friend, Neil Smith of Johannesburg, said he had met the Austrian in Germany during the 2006 Soccer World Cup. Both are sports managers. He said Burgstaller came to South Africa last November to attend the preliminary draw for the 2010 Soccer World Cup in Durban, and to visit him in order to discuss business opportunities surrounding 2010.

He had arrived on Friday morning at 11 am and called to say he was looking forward to “some golf in the sunshine”. That afternoon at about 2.15 pm they spoke for the last time while Burgstaller was en route to Selborne. Burgstaller was supposed to pick him up at Durban International Airport on Sunday, November 25, to proceed to Durban for the draw, but he failed to arrive.

Smith said when he heard that Burgstaller had been shot dead he could not believe it. Later he had gone to see the Austrian group Burgstaller had been due to meet in Durban and they had already heard the news. “They were absolutely devastated. I offered to take them to the draw but they didn’t want to leave the hotel … they just wanted to stay in the hotel,” he said.

The case is proceeding.

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