Axe spree: guilt denied

2012-11-20 00:00

THEMBINKOSI Cebekhulu died violently one night on a pavement in Montclair, Durban, his head separated from his body by the heavy blows of an axe.

His death was the start of a gruesome spree of murders and attacks that took place in Durban over nine days in March last year.

Police and prosecutors say former Blue Bulls rugby player Phindile Joseph Ntshongwana (33) was the killer.

His trial started yesterday in the Durban high court where he faces nine charges — four of murder, two attempted murders, rape, kidnapping and assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm.

Ntshongwana, looming large in the dock, pleaded not guilty to all counts. His lawyer Themba Mjoli produced a handwritten plea with a psychiatrist’s report attached that said Ntshongwana suffered delusions and feared people were out to harm him.

Such afflictions, said Professor A.E. Gangat, prompted sufferers to become “hostile, aggressive, homicidal and extremely violent” to the point where they lost touch with reality.

Although Ntshongwana was declared fit to stand trial last year after a period of psychiatric observation, Mjoli said he would argue a lack of criminal responsibility owing to his mental disorders.

Evidence heard yesterday centred on two of the murders and the assault, the latter occurring in November 2010, two days before the alleged kidnapping and rape of a woman.

Cebekhulu’s brutal demise at the side of Kenyon Howden Road on the night of March 20 was described by two witnesses who drove past as he was being attacked.

Neither Peter Gauldie nor Gildred Donnelly, who live in the area, was able to identify Ntshongwana as the assailant.

But both said as they approached the scene separately in their cars at about 9.40 pm, they saw a person standing over Cebekhulu and “beating down” and chopping at his body.

Donnelly, at one point in his testimony, halted and struggled to continue as he recalled seeing Cebekhulu’s body “bouncing” in rhythm with the blows.

The men both drove past, called police and then returned to the scene minutes later. “There was only a person lying on the side of the road and I could see he had been beheaded,” said Gauldie.

Crime scene photographs show Cebekhulu’s head in the gutter and his body above on the pavement.

Donnelly said he saw the attacker standing over his victim, using his left hand to chop at the body. Ntshongwana signed his plea statement with his left hand.

Journalist Paul Kirk was later called to testify how his dog had found the decomposed body of a man near train tracks in Yellowwood Park on April 1, 2011.

The head was missing and the victim’s pants had been pulled to his ankles. The charge sheet states that investigators believe he was killed up to 10 days earlier.

The crime scene was in the vicinity of Ntshongwana’s neighbourhood.

Constable Sthembiso Dlangisa testified that he removed the toecap of a takkie from the scene and, on instruction, entered it into the evidence register.

The court also heard Mhleli Tholo describe how he was attacked two years ago by a “very fit man” while he was walking along Stirling Road in Yellowwood Park. His assailant hit him repeatedly with a baton and fled when someone switched on their house lights nearby.

Asked if he could identify his attacker, Tholo looked around and pointed to Ntshongwana.

Tholo received stitches to his forehead and was discharged from hospital after two days.

The trial continues.

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