Taxi gang: Judge denies bail to protect witness

2010-11-18 00:00

ONE of two men charged in connection with the hijackings and murders of three metered taxi drivers and robbery with aggravating circumstances of a fourth between May and July this year, was denied bail by Pietermaritzburg magistrate Divesh Mootheram yesterday. Mootheram ruled that it would not be in the interests of justice to release the accused, Siyabonga Zimu (26), on bail after hearing evidence from Warrant Officer Derek Coetzee who opposed his release.

Zimu’s co-accused, Samkelo Maphumulo, withdrew his bail application. Coetzee said in a statement the state has strong evidence linking both men to the spate of armed robberies and murders of metered taxi drivers in the capital.

The modus operandi of the gang was to phone and order a metered taxi, let the driver take them to France township where the drivers were then shot dead and robbed of their vehicles. The stolen cars were taken to Folweni in Durban where they were sold — one for as little as R1 300 — and others were stripped and the parts sold as spares. Maphumulo was arrested in Isipingo on September 16 and found in possession of a 9 mm pistol as well as the drivers licence of one of the murdered drivers, Spamandla Victor Zondi. After questioning him police arrested Zimu. Both men made pointings out to police as a result of which police recovered cars stolen from Zondi and another murdered driver, Zephrid Nxumalo, as well as the engine and car parts linked to the vehicle taken from the third murder victim, Xolani Hlela. A black leather jacket belonging to the surviving victim, Siphakanyiswa Nxele, was also recovered. Coetzee testified that Nxele was held up at gunpoint, stripped naked and dropped off at the very same spot where all the other drivers were shot.

He opposed Zimu being given bail on grounds that he was likely to evade trial as he was aware the charges were very serious, attracting sentences of life imprisonment for each of the murders and a minimum of 15 years imprisonment on each robbery count.

He also believed that state witnesses would be in danger as they were known to the accused.

Giving judgment Mootheram said it was clear the offences involved “gross violence” and said these types of crimes are very prevalent.

“This court deals with matters of this nature daily. Today alone we have seven matters involving robbery with aggravating circumstances. Every day these matters seem to be on the increase,” he said.

The case was postponed to January 5.

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