Top KZN cop killed in ambush

2008-08-27 00:00

A KZN “super-cop” who was also station commissioner of the Kranskop police station was shot and killed and his colleague critically injured during an ambush in kwaMaphumulo near kwaDukuza (Stanger) yesterday morning.

Superintendent Zethembe Chonco was killed while he and his colleagues were escorting awaiting- trial prisoners from Kranskop to the kwaDukuza Magistrate’s Court.

A man believed to be one of the attackers was also killed when police officers retaliated and returned fire at about 9 am.

Police spokesman Vincent Mdunge said it appears that “Chonco was the main target …”

Mdunge said the motive for the attack has not been established. He did not rule out the possibility that the attack could be linked to taxi violence.

Chonco, who was also the commander of Taxi Task Team Organised Crime Unit in the area, had been involved in investigating a number of high-profile killings related to taxi violence.

The incident happened about 40 km from Kranskop on the R74 highway, between Greytown and kwaDukuza.

Where the ambush took place, construction is under way and vehicles are diverted to a narrow dirt road with a speed limit of 30 km/h.

Before the ambush, Chonco and the colleague who was injured were travelling in one of the three police vehicles. The other vehicles were carrying the prisoners.

His colleague, an Inspector Khanyile, was also shot and rushed to hospital.

He is reported to be battling for his life.

Members of the Taxi Task Team Organised Crime Unit were transporting prisoners to Stanger Magistrate’s Court in two police vans.

Chonco and Khanyile were in a small vehicle escorting the vans.

“When the police cars approached a bend, a group of armed men appeared from a dense forest [near the side of the road] and ambushed the police officers. Members returned fire, resulting in one of the suspects being killed,” one of the senior police officers at the scene said.

The officers said after the shooting, it was discovered that Chonco had been shot dead, while Khanyile was critically wounded.

Residents of the nearby Halibhoma area, who witnessed the shooting, were still in shock when the Witness arrived.

One of them was Victoria Zungu who, with a group of other women, was washing clothes in a stream close to the scene.

“Bullets were flying over our heads and we dived to the ground for cover.

“We remained lying down throughout the shooting.

“When we looked up, I saw one vehicle reversing at high speed from the scene of the shooting.

“I left everything I was doing and ran back home,” said Zungu.

Another eyewitness, who works for a road construction company, said that after the shooting — which took about three minutes — he saw two men running away with “big machine guns”.

When The Witness arrived at the scene at about 1.30 pm, police were busy gathering evidence.

The two bodies and the car that Chonco had been driving were still at the scene. The windows of the car, a Mazda 6 sedan, were all shattered.

Police officers at the Kranskop police station said they would like to “express their anger” over Chonco’s murder.

“But due to the SAPS protocol, we better remain silent,” one said.

MEC for Transport, Community Safety and Liaison Bheki Cele strongly condemned the attack.

“Chonco was one of the most effective and efficient police in the province.

“The SAPS will make sure that they have sleepless nights in ensuring that these hooligans are caught and put away,” he said.

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