Newsmaker – Lekoko Malapela: The man who caught a monster

2014-03-30 14:01

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One dedicated investigating officer managed to enter the dark recesses of a serial rapist’s twisted mind.

Four years ago, Constable Lekoko Malapela was assigned to investigate a case of rape in Mpumalanga.

During his examination of the evidence, he spotted a pattern and started digging out old, forgotten dockets dating back to 2003.

All the survivors he found, from areas around Secunda, Evander and Kinross, told a similar story: a panga-wielding, scar-faced man carrying a bag of clothing had attacked them. An Identikit of the perpetrator was compiled and distributed but no one came forward with any information.

Forensic evidence also suggested Malapela was dealing with a serial rapist – the same DNA profile had been found at several scenes, but there was no match on the police’s database.

In the end, it was a cellphone that led to the arrest of Bheki Khumalo (33).

Malapela and his colleagues caught Khumalo after the rapist gave his brother a cellphone that he had stolen from one of his victims – police had realised the handset was still active.

Khumalo was on Tuesday convicted in the Secunda regional court of murder and attempted murder, as well as on 22 counts of rape, 16 of kidnapping and six robberies.

Khumalo was acquitted on six other rape counts and three kidnappings because witnesses could not be traced.

Malapela is also worried about women who may not have reported their rapes.

“We were looking for conviction on all 57 counts he faced, but technology wasn’t advanced in 2003 as it is now and some witnesses couldn’t be traced,” he said.

On Wednesday, Malapela stood atop a man-made mountain of fly ash, a ubiquitous sight in the energy and chemical-producing town in Mpumalanga.

From the foot of the dumpsite to the bushy area lying beyond it: this was Khumalo’s hunting ground.

He lured many of his victims there from Embalenhle township, which is about 8km away.

“I really can’t say how he worked the victims’ minds to agree to walk all the way out of the township and climb up here,” says Malapela.

“He actually took them further away, deep into the bushes, where he raped them.”

His victims that the state knows about were aged between 12 and 60.

He also targeted amorous couples parked in cars on the outskirts of town. Khumalo stole cellphones, cash, jewellery, jeans and shoes.

He ignored larger items like laptops and even his victims’ cars.

“He either got his victims in the township or on the outskirts.

Some of the young girls he raped he found walking in groups of two or even three, and the trick would be the same,” says Malapela.

In Embalenhle, Khumalo would stop women and accuse them of stealing money from a child he’d sent to the shops.

He’d insist they follow him to talk to the child so they could explain themselves.

By the time they reached the dumpsite, it was too late for most of them.

“In some cases, one or two women would run away, but in others he would rape two and leave others.

He would leave the women in one spot, go with one on the pretext she was going to be interviewed and threaten those who remained that if he didn’t find them there when he returned, he’d kill the one he’d taken,” Malapela said.

When he found women or girls on the outskirts of the township, fetching ­firewood or simply walking past, Khumalo pretended he was a farm or mine security guard.

He would threaten to charge them with trespassing and then lead them into the bushes – “to be interviewed”, he always claimed.

“He used the same trick on the couples he found. He would bang on the driver’s window and hysterically shout out accusations of trespassing. The men would ­normally run for their lives, leaving the women behind,” says Malapela.

On September 27 2010, when Malapela and his colleagues went to arrest Khumalo, they found him at his rented home in Secunda – with his girlfriend and two children, who were one and seven at the time.

Malapela almost didn’t become a police officer – he only joined the SA Police Service in 2004 because his office practice diploma was not landing him an administrative job.

But he was a natural: after just three months as a uniformed officer, he was moved to the detective unit and started focusing mostly on rape cases.

After landing a conviction of this nature, most officers would be satisfied with a job well done.

But for the man originally from Dennilton, Limpopo, there’s a sense some women might still not have received justice.

Mpumalanga provincial police commissioner Lieutenant-General Thulani ­Ntobela praised Malapela and his colleagues for their work in busting Khumalo.

“I am proud of the calibre of members I have in the family violence, child protection and sexual offences unit. They have proven their zeal in discharging their duties,” Ntobela said.

Khumalo is due to be sentenced on April 7.

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