Dogged cop never gave up

2016-09-29 09:46
Warrant Officer Siphiwe Mkhize (left) and Plessislaer FCS commander Captain Themba Kunene look over the case files for serial rapist Lungisani Mbhele, who was given a triple life sentence for his crimes in Richmond recently.

Warrant Officer Siphiwe Mkhize (left) and Plessislaer FCS commander Captain Themba Kunene look over the case files for serial rapist Lungisani Mbhele, who was given a triple life sentence for his crimes in Richmond recently. (Amil Umraw)

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A serial rapist will spend the rest of his life behind bars thanks to the dedicated work of a seasoned Pietermaritzburg detective.

Plessislaer Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences (FCS) detective Siphiwe Mkhize on Wednesday closed the docket of convicted serial rapist Lungisani Mbhele with a sigh of relief.

He had investigated Mbhele for two years.

The Pietermaritzburg Regional Court recently imposed a triple life sentence on Mbhele (23) for a series of rape and kidnapping cases in Richmond between 2014 and 2015.

Mbhele — described as a “highly feared” criminal in Richmond — is believed to be linked to other cases in KZN.

The Mbhele saga started in October, 2014 when he kidnapped and raped an 18-year-old at Esigcakini outside Richmond.

He reportedly stormed into the girl’s home and snatched her in the presence of her mother before dragging her to his home and raping her repeatedly.

Mkhize told The Witness Mbhele’s modus operandi was unique.

“Commonly, a rapist is opportunistic or commits a crime out of aggression, for example. In this case, Mbhele had instilled such fear in the community that he could just snatch any girl openly, without fear of consequences,” Mkhize said.

“He would just go into a house in front of the family and choose a girl he wanted to rape. When the first case was reported, it was like any other rape case, but as we dug deeper, we found the truth.”

After the first incident, Mkhize said they traced Mbhele to his secluded home surrounded by “thick bushes”.

“There was always a challenge in arresting him. He had about 10 dogs on his property and they would bark every time we got close and he would escape. He would disappear for a while to other parts of the province, then resurface,” Mkhize said.

A month after the first incident, Mbhele struck again.

This time, a 34-year-old woman was walking in the same area with her female partner when they were approached by Mbhele.

“This was a hate crime. Mbhele called the couple lesbians and wanted to show them what it was like to be with a man. He assaulted the victim and her partner ran away,” Mkhize said.

Mbhele again dragged the woman to his house and raped her.

Police launched a manhunt for Mbhele, but he had disappeared again.

In June 2015, Mbhele resurfaced in Richmond.

During the early hours of June 3, he started banging on the doors of his girlfriend’s home, threatening to break through if she did not come out.

His girlfriend was not there, but another 18-year-old girl was.

When told that his girlfriend was not there, Mbhele demanded to be let in to see if the girl was telling the truth. On being let in, he “started proposing love to her” and made sexual advances.

When she refused, Mbhele assaulted her and dragged her away, leaving her children, aged two and three, alone.

The woman was forced to Mbhele’s house and raped.

Two months later, he tried to rape his fourth victim.

The 23-year-old was walking home with her younger brother from a tuck shop in the Siyathuthuka informal settlement when Mbhele approached them.

He showed the woman’s brother a picture of her on his phone, saying she was his girlfriend and ordering him to leave.

“She [the victim] did not know Mbhele. We think he got the picture from Facebook or other social media,” Mkhize said.

When the brother left, Mbhele assaulted the woman and forced her to his home. However, she managed to contact a friend and her mother, who rushed to the police station.

Officers raced to Mbhele’s home and rescued the woman before she was raped, but he escaped again.

“As a unit we discussed the size of the problem we had encountered and our entire unit got together in a sting operation to bust Mbhele,” Mkhize said.

On September 17, 2015, acting on information that Mbhele was at home, the entire Plessislaer FCS team, led by their commander, Captain Themba Kunene, raced to Richmond and surrounded Mbhele’s home. They kicked the door down and found him in his bedroom.

Mbhele was at last arrested and appeared in court on several occasions over a year, until he was found guilty and sentenced.

“During that year the court was like my second home. We had more difficulties because the witnesses were so afraid of testifying against Mbhele, but I managed to convince them,” Mkhize said.

“I was over the moon when he was sentenced … I hope this sends a message to others who think they can get away with rape.”

Who is Warrant Officer Siphiwe Mkhize?

A seasoned detective, Warrant Officer Siphiwe Mkhize has worked in the Plessis­laer Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit (FCS) for 11 years, putting away criminals who abuse women and children.

Mkhize has been a policeman for 26 years and said the passion for investigation runs in his blood.

“I wanted to be a detective from the time I was in school. I remember in class one day somebody had stolen a pen and I investigated it,” Mkhize laughed.

“I joined the FCS because I like to solve cases, especially when it means getting justice for vulnerable groups of people.”

Mkhize’s superb detective skills landed him a spot on the police television programme When Duty Calls in 2013.

The programme highlights big police successes nationwide.

Speaking of his most memorable case, Mkhize said he once solved a rape where the witnesses were members of the rapist’s family and Mkhize had to convince them to testify. The rapist was given a life sentence.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  good cops

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