From bicycles to brutal murder

2009-04-17 00:00

OUT on bail and facing charges of aggravated armed robbery and murder, Hillcrest man Masonkhe Dala Zuma has been linked to the robbery of two young mountain bikers last month, drawing attention to the fact that dangerous armed robbers are increasingly targeting recreational and competitive cyclists.

Durban private detective Rowan Mattig, the owner of Swarm Investigations, told Weekend Witness that he was recently hired to investigate the robbery of the two cyclists who were attacked on a training ride through the sugar cane fields of Hillcrest.

Mattig said he and his investigators began making inquiries and soon learned that Zuma was in possession of property taken during the robbery.

Said Mattig: “Our informers told us that Zuma may well be the key to solving the robbery and led us to his place of work. However, we had no idea at all who Zuma was at the time we went to interview him. Surprisingly he was extremely co-operative and offered to take my investigators and the police to the two men who he claimed had sold him the stolen property.”

However, it was only when Zuma arrived at Hillcrest police station that police recognised him as one of three men arrested and charged with the murder of Drummond man Mark Vroom in 2007.

Last year, Nhlanhla Nkunzi Dlamini, a 22-year-old career criminal, pleaded guilty to the aggravated armed robbery and murder of Vroom on December 10, 2007.

Vroom and his brother Digby were attacked on their Lilac Road, Drummond, smallholding in a night-time robbery in which Dlamini and his gang gained access to the farmhouse through a pet access door cut into the security gate.

Dlamini confirmed that he was with Sisho Msibi, Zuma and a man he knows only as Zamokwakhe during the robbery. Dlamini confirmed that he took along an unlicensed gun and that his accomplices were armed with knives.

Dlamini said that after Msibi got into the house the young thug first stole a wallet and then returned to see what else could be stolen.

Dlamini was reported as saying: “At that moment, a dog entered the dining room and started barking at Msibi. The deceased and [Digby] Vroom entered the dining room. Msibi attempted to flee via the grid [as he described the pet access door]. The deceased [Mark Vroom] grabbed hold of him and stood on top of him, while [Digby] Vroom held Msibi by his legs.”

Dlamini said he and his accomplices ran to the door and threatened the brothers with knives and his gun. When this did not get the brothers to back down, Dlamini admitted he shot Vroom.

In sentencing Dlamini to life plus 19 years in jail, Judge Leona Theron said it is a sad indictment on South Africa that life is so cheap.

However, with Dlamini convicted, Zuma launched a bail application — and was granted bail of R1 500 — despite having no fixed abode.

Weekend Witness could not immediately establish when Zuma’s trial is to commence. His accomplice, Dlamini, indicated at his trial that he will give evidence against Zuma and the other accused.

Mattig told Weekend Witness that at first he and police suspected Zuma might have escaped from custody, but investigations confirmed he was granted bail.

Said Mattig: “Amazingly, someone in the courts had actually decided that he was worthy of being granted bail, despite not having a fixed address and despite the fact that he is under investigation on several cases other than the Vroom murder.”

After questioning Zuma and verifying his claims that he knew the bicycle robbers and had bought stolen property from them — but did not take part in the robbery or know the property he bought was stolen — police took Zuma with them on a midnight raid. During the operation conducted last week detectives arrested two men in connection with the robbery.

Mattig said that he is aware that many serious criminals graduate from robbing cyclists to much more violent crimes such as bank robberies.

Said Mattig: “The Jessica Foord rapists, for example, started off as bicycle thieves, so getting these guys locked up may well nip their criminal careers in the bud.”

Zuma is still awaiting trial for the murder of Vroom, but has not been charged with the robbery of the cyclists.


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