‘No desire to cause death’

2014-01-09 00:00

MEMBERS of an armed gang that deliberately rammed a G4S cash van on the N11 near Ladysmith in 2009 and stole R692 132 were saved from life sentences yesterday.

Judge Anton van Zyl ruled that although they foresaw that people could be hurt or killed, they didn’t directly “desire” anyone’s death.

Judge van Zyl sentenced five members of the gang — Jerody Mthimunye, Philemon Nhleko, Ewat Xaba, Zikethela Sokhela, and Ladysmith police sergeant Siyabonga Nkwanyana — to effective jail terms of 30 years each.

In particular, Van Zyl agreed with the submissions by defence lawyer Ishi Khan that there was no evidence that the gang had planned a head-on collision between their truck and the G4S van, and said it was more likely the plan had simply been to force the security van off the road, but that something went wrong.

The judge also commented, during arguments prior to sentence, that it seemed the gang had made sure that security guard Sibusiso Phakathi (who was killed) and his colleague, Johannes Mokoena, were removed from the back of the van before they used explosives to blast it open to access the cash.

This was because Mokoena — who survived the attack, but was knocked unconscious — testified that when he came round, he and Phakathi were lying side by side at the roadside.

The driver of the G4S vehicle, George van Tonder, who also died from his injuries, was not so lucky. The evidence revealed that Van Tonder died an agonising death trapped in the front cab where helpers were not able to reach in time to save him from bleeding to death, despite his cries.

Judge van Zyl said an indication that the robber gang had not planned on their stolen truck crashing head on into the cash van was the fact that they had to improvise on the scene by commandeering motorist Deborah Shabalala’s four-wheel drive vehicle and use it to free their own injured gang member from the wreckage. This most likely was Ottoman Msimango, who also died.

The judge said the fact that the gang stole a Toyota truck with a flatbed trailer to commit the robbery made it probable their intention had been to “side swipe” the G4S van with the trailer section, forcing it off the road.

He said these were the circumstances that the court took into account as justification for imposing less-than-life imprisonment on the accused for the murders of Van Tonder, Phakathi and Msimango. How­ever, the findings were in no way intended to reflect the murders as being insignificant crimes.

“Robberies generally have become the scourge of society,” Van Zyl said.

He said cash in transit heists in particular were far too frequent, were usually pre-planned and tightly executed, and had to be discouraged.

Van Zyl said three people lost their lives and Mokoena’s life, had by all accounts, been ruined.

Mokoena testified that he has limited use of the left side of his body and suffers from severe head pain resulting from his injuries.

The judge said the robbery had been carefully planned. Routes were inspected and the location of where to halt the G4S van was decided on.

However, he said there was no evidence as to what role each of the robbers played and whether they were leaders or mere participants in the heist.

For that reason all of them were given the same sentences.

The judge said each of them had an income and was motivated by greed to commit the crimes.

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