High bail for taxi bosses

2010-05-04 00:00

FOUR taxi bosses charged in connection with an early morning “hit” in which three men died in a hail of bullets in Church Street in Pietermaritzburg in February last year were yesterday granted bail of R25 000 or R35 000 each but were ordered to remain under house arrest pending their trial.

Members of the public squabbled to get a seat in the overcrowded public gallery in the courthouse and were warned that if they were unruly the court would be cleared.

Pietermaritzburg magistrate Mishi Singh said the fact that the four accused — Douglas Mthiyane (58) Ngikhawuleni Robert Mkhize (61), Phineas Zuma (58) and Moffet Hlongwane (55) — appear to be “stable businessmen” conducting their business interests from Pietermaritzburg was a compelling and substantial circumstance permitting the court to release them on bail.

The investigating officer, Warrant Officer Derek Coetzee of the organised crime unit in Pietermaritzburg, told the court he does not believe the accused are a flight risk.

He said he was not opposed to their release on bail on certain conditions.

Coetzee testified that the state’s case against the four accused is “not watertight”, meaning that it is not as strong as he would like it to be.

However, advocate J.W.B. Wolmarans, who appeared for the accused, said it had been agreed during discussions between the prosecution and defence that Robert Mkhize would pay a higher sum of bail (R35 000) because the case against him was “slightly stronger” than against his co-accused.

The other three accused were each granted bail of R25 000.

The accused have to remain under house arrest, may not communicate in any way with state witnesses — who according to Coetzee are in any event not known to them — and must report to the organised crime unit offices twice weekly.

All the accused handed in affidavits indicating their substantial business interests in the taxi industry, family ties in Pietermaritzburg, and ownership of property and other assets, including in some instances cash amounts of up to R50 000 in their bank accounts.

All four men indicated that they will plead not guilty to the murder charges.

Because murder is a schedule six offence in terms of bail legislation, there is an onus on the defence to show that there are compelling and substantial circumstances that permit the accused’s release on bail.

The four men are charged with the murders of taxi operators Mandla Gabela, Lindela Dongwe and Vumani Dlomo on February 19, 2009.

The Witness reported the following day that the murders were believed to be linked to a taxi route conflict in the Pietermaritzburg Long Distance Taxi Association.

One of the three men was allegedly intent on operating a taxi on a disputed route.

Police reported that the victims came under fire from two men seated in a Toyota Corolla car in Church Street near the taxi rank.

Eyewitnesses told of their terror as a volley of gunshots rang out shortly before 6 am. They included early morning commuters and patients queuing at a local doctor’s surgery.

All three victims died at the scene of the shooting.

All four men said they believed they would be safe if released on bail, but said they will ensure their own safety.

The case was postponed to June 24.

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