Shelembe shock

2011-06-16 00:00

An ANC driver, Themba Dumisani Jethro Mbona (43), confessed yesterday to setting fire to the ANC’s Pietermaritzburg offices on Saturday night. He claimed in the regional court that he acted on orders from Msunduzi Deputy Mayor and ANC regional treasurer Alpha Shelembe, who promised him R500 000 and a permanent job if he set the blaze.

Mbona pleaded guilty before regional magistrate Jaco Jordaan to a charge of arson for setting the fire, which caused damage estimated at more than R750 000 to the ANC’s offices in Jabu Ndlovu Street.

He was sentenced to eight years imprisonment of which three years were conditionally suspended for five years.

Jordaan said the purpose of the sentence was not only to punish Mbona for the very serious crime he’d owned up to and to prevent him doing such a thing again, but also that the heavy sentence should act as a deterrent to like-minded people.

The court ordered that Mbona cannot own a firearm in future.

Jordaan commented that he regarded Mbona’s confession as “brave” because it could not have been an easy decision for him to make, particularly as his life may now be in danger.

At the request of senior public prosecutor Morris Alexander, Jordaan ordered that Mbona not be imprisoned in Pietermaritzburg but at a different location due to the political connotations attached to the matter.

In his plea, which was read to the court by his legal aid lawyer, Hitesh Binessarie, Mbona said he was employed at the ANC offices as a driver to Super Zuma (who is the secretary of the ANC regional executive committee).

“In May 2011 I was approached by Alpha Shelembe at work, who offered me R500 000 to set fire to the offices.

“As part of the agreement I was to be offered a permanent job at the ANC offices. I was informed by Alpha Shelembe that I must set the building alight after the provincial members of the ANC had left. I was never informed as to the reason why Alpha Shelembe wanted the offices burnt.”

He said he followed Shelembe’s instructions and at about 8.20 pm on Saturday proceeded to the ANC offices where he set the building alight “by placing a short candle on the floor surrounded with paper”.

He lit the candle and then returned home and went to bed, he said.

Mbona said he went to the police and reported the incident on Tuesday because his conscience was “eating” him.

He had not received the money he was promised, he added.

Mbona said he was truly remorseful for his actions and begged the court’s mercy.

He stood impassively in the dock neatly dressed in a casual black jacket over a white shirt and a tie and answered questions calmly.

Binessarie urged the court to take into account that Mbona was a “mere pawn”, that he has no previous convictions and had entered the criminal arena purely due to the promise of wealth and a permanent job, which he had found tempting in his circumstances.

The court was told Mbona earned R3 000 per month as Zuma’s driver and had to support a wife and three children.

He also highlighted the fact that Mbona was co-operating with the police and said he would be prepared to testify against Shelembe if required to do so.

In a media statement Brigadier Phindile Radebe hailed the “swift justice” meted out to Mbona and the work of Pietermaritzburg detectives under the command of Colonel Sam Naidoo and crime intelligence officers under Colonel Ismail Khan who arrested Mbona.

In a statement issued by her office police said more arrests will follow.

*Shelembe and his wife and sister are among six accused facing corruption charges in the regional court arising from a 2003 property deal. They are due to appear in court in connection with that case again on June 21.

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