Man in wheelchair sentenced to life

2008-06-10 00:00

A wheelchair-bound man was sentenced to life plus an effective 46 years’ imprisonment by high court judge Kate Pillay in Pietermaritzburg yesterday.

His crimes included the cold-blooded murder of Pietermaritzburg police officer Sibusiso Bhengu and the attempted murders of four other policemen and a civilian during a crime spree that ended with his arrest in 2006 by Pietermaritzburg’s Crime Intelligence Services.

The court heard that the accused, Linda Wellman Dlamini (34) of kwaNdengezi, Pinetown, crushed his leg during an escape attempt while awaiting trial on these charges in the Pietermaritzburg New Prison in July last year. This resulted in his leg being amputated, and his confinement to a wheelchair. He also suffered a stroke at the time and has lost the use of his left hand.

His legal aid lawyer, Divesh Mootheram, urged Judge Pillay to find as mitigation that Dlamini has already “paid a high price” for his crimes, and asked her to have regard for the fact that Dlamini pleaded guilty to the serious charges facing him and indicated he was prepared to assist police with regard to other prosecutions. However, the judge said in her view these facts did not outweigh the seriousness of Dlamini’s acts. “That he is injured is attributable to his own conduct and no-one else’s,” she said.

Addressing the court earlier, state advocate Candy Kander said statistics released at the end of 2007 by the SA Institute of Race Relations showed a “staggering” 64% increase in the murders of police officers in the period between 1995 and 2005 when a total of 1 894 policemen were killed.

Judge Pillay said in her view the only appropriate sentence for the “brutal slaying” of police officer Bhengu was life imprisonment, and said she considered the minimum prescribed sentences of five years imprisonment for the attempted murders of four other policemen (on a different occasion) to be inadequate. She sentenced Dlamini to 15 years imprisonment on each of those four counts, but ordered the sentences to run concurrently.

The officers who were involved in a shootout with Dlamini and his companions during a car chase in the kwaNdengezi area on the night of June 27, 2000, were officers Swami Pillay, Madoda “Mebra” Nzimande, Johannes Wolfaard and Anwar Mohammed Hanif.

Dlamini said in a statement to court he and his associates opened fire on the two police vehicles chasing them in order to escape. They had abandoned the motor vehicle and their firearms afterwards and fled the scene.

Describing the murder of police officer Bhengu on February 20, 2000, he said he and a fellow prisoner, Sunny Mgwaba, decided to escape from Loop street police cells and arranged for a friend, Bongani, to provide them with a firearm. Bongani was to wait outside, also armed, and provide them with “cover fire”.

At that time Dlamini was a suspect in a robbery case.

Bongani had brought a firearm to them in a package and when Bhengu asked to inspect it he (Dlamini) produced the gun. Bhengu tried to throw the cell keys out of the office window, but they hit the metal bars and fell back inside.

Dlamini said he and Bhengu struggled and the policeman had “almost” overpowered him. Mgwaba then grabbed the gun and shot Bhengu.

“I took possession of the firearm and Mgwaba picked up the keys and opened the cell doors and we fled. As we were leaving … police officers fired shots at us.”

He said Bongani, waiting near the Imperial Hotel, fired at the police and in the process hit and injured a civilian, Bongani Makhathini.

The charges in respect of which Dlamini was sentenced yesterday were the murder of Bhengu, the five counts of attempted murder, escaping from custody, robbery with aggravating circumstances of A and A Bedding in Durban in February 2005 and unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition.

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