Not us, 5-minute accused tell court

2008-07-13 00:00

While police and the prosecution allege that there is strong evidence against four men suspected of being members of the “five-minute gang” that terrorised Pietermaritzburg’s upmarket suburbs, two of the accused have claimed they were unfairly tagged as gang members through “suspicion and pressure to arrest” the gang.

Investigating officer Inspector Riaan van Rooyen has also testified that the state intends to reinstate charges against the accused in connection with an alleged plot to rob Coin Security in East London and possession of assault rifles, and are looking into the reasons for the withdrawal of a string of other charges that some of them have faced over the past few years.

Durban taxi and butchery owner Ntokoza Majola (32) of kwaMashu, who is one of the accused, said in an affidavit in support of his bail application on Friday that it is disconcerting that he and his co-accused have been dubbed to be members of the five-minute gang “based only” on the evidence of their arrest on May 31 in connection with two charges of housebreaking.

“The fact that after more than a month of investigation by the Organised Crime Unit, no further charges have been preferred against us is proof in itself that there is insufficient evidence to link us to the spate of burglaries and robberies in the Pietermaritzburg area.

Yet through suspicion and the pressure to arrest the five-minute gang we are now labelled serial burglars and robbers who are considered a danger to society and who are likely to go out and commit further crime. The media coverage has also played a role in the perception,” states Majola.

His explanation for fitting false number plates to his black BMW X5 — which collided with a Chubb Security vehicle that was en route to the scene of an attempted housebreaking at the home of Dr M. Howard in Valbridge Road, Chase Valley, on May 31 — is that his life was in danger in a spate of taxi violence in kwaMashu and Ntuzuma.

Majola said he is a member of the kwaMashu Taxi Association, which is in violent conflict with Newlands West Taxi Association, leading to two murders in May.

Majola says in his affidavit he and his three co-accused — Sibongiseni Zwane (31) of Ntuzuma; Mdeni Vilakazi (25) of Msunduzi Road and Jabulani Hadebe (35) of kwaMashu — had come to Pietermaritzburg as Zwane wanted to visit his girlfriend who was attending a wedding party here.

They could not find the house and Zwane then arranged to meet his girlfriend at Liberty Mall. En route, a police vehicle drove towards them and its occupants pointed firearms, he said.

“I was startled and reacted by swerving. My vehicle thereupon had a severe collision with Chubb Security vehicle. As I alighted from my vehicle, shots were fired at me and I was struck by a bullet in my forearm. I ran to a nearby house to take cover. Before I could do so I was arrested by the police.”

He said a large hammer and crowbar found in his car were not housebreaking implements, but for use in renovating his home.

Van Rooyen said Chubb Security was responding to a call after a witness saw the four occupants of a black BMW X5 take the gate of Dr Howard’s property off its railing and push it open, and then reverse into the yard. The witness thereafter heard loud “banging”.

The witness notified Howard, who called police and the security company.

Police were at the scene of an earlier break-in at the home of advocate S. Moodley at Kelly Place, Montrose, where a Trellidor was “totally ripped out of the wall”, the front door forced open with an instrument like a crowbar and R45 000 worth of jewellery stolen.

Van Rooyen said that as the Chubb vehicle — followed by police — rounded the corner to Valbridge Road, Majola’s black BMW X5 came round the corner on the wrong side of the road at high speed and smashed into the Chubb vehicle.

The security car was thrown about five metres down an embankment and “written off”. The driver was seriously injured.

The BMW was also severely damaged. The occupants fled and ignored shouts by police to stop.

Police dogs were used to make the arrests and Majola was shot in the arm. He said jewellery identified as stolen was recovered at the scene along with a large hammer and crowbar, which were lying on the back seat of the BMW X5.

Forensic tests are being done to see if the implements caused damage to the front entrances of the houses that were broken into.

Fingerprint evidence is also still being awaited.

Crutches were also found in the BMW, which belong to Vilakazi, who has an old injury to his leg. Van Rooyen said in other burglaries by the five-minute gang witnesses saw a man on crutches at the scene and even spoke to him.

He said that in his view the evidence that the accused are members of the five-minute gang is strong, and added that since their arrest, no further similar housebreakings have taken place.

The bail hearing was adjourned provisionally until July 16.

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