VIP cop’s dark past

2013-10-16 00:00

ONE of the VIP bodyguards arrested for a last week’s N3 highway “blue light” shooting incident was a key player in the assassination of KwaZulu-Natal warlord Sifiso Nkabinde.

Thulasizwe Dennis Mbanjwa was one of the two bodyguards of Umgungundlovu District Mayor Yusuf Bhamjee who appeared in court this week on charges relating to shots being fired at a Durban motorist last week.

But, The Witness can reveal, Mbanjwa is more than a mayoral bodyguard.

He has a past that puts him at the centre of one of the darkest episodes in KwaZulu-Natal’s recent history — the bloody January 1999 assassination of Sifiso Nkabinde, the Richmond warlord and former ANC secretary-general in KwaZulu-Natal.

Mbanjwa was convicted and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for his role in the assassination.

Now, observers are asking how he could have been hired as an armed bodyguard protecting a leading mayor.

At the time of his death, Nkabinde was head of the fledgling ANC rival United Democratic Movement and relished his warlord role.

He held Richmond in an iron grip of terror until his death. His assassination led to the murders of 11 ANC members on the same day.

Mbanjwa — once a Pietermaritzburg high court usher and ANC candidate in Richmond elections, according to reports — was one of seven eventually convicted in connection with Nkabinde’s murder.

Mbanjwa was convicted of two counts of attempted murder and one of conspiracy to commit murder before being sent to prison.

Evidence in his trial was that he had originally been involved in the main plot to kill the warlord, but had withdrawn only to play a linchpin role in helping the actual shooters to evade the police and assisting them in getting a reward for Nkab­inde’s killing.

Yesterday, Richmond council members, who commented on condition of anonymity, recalled Mbanjwa’s role clearly — and read with interest his return to the headlines with the N3 shooting incident.

Last week, a Durban motorist told how he was shot at by VIP bodyguards on the N3 and how they claimed he was posing a threat to the mayor they were supposedly escorting.

“One wonders what procedures were followed to employ this man as a mayoral VIP officer,” one councillor told The Witness.

“It is a known fact that he was arrested in March 2000 in connection with the killing of Nkabinde. Although he was not charged with murder, he was found guilty on two counts of attempted murder and one of conspiracy to commit murder,” said one member.

“At the time it was reported that he had assisted the killers to evade arrest. Given his arrest, his role in the murder and subsequent conviction, it was not right for him to be employed as a mayoral VIP officer,” said the councillor.

“You can’t put the life of a mayor in the hands of someone who has been convicted of such serious crimes”.

Another source, who also asked not to be named, said: “I was shocked to hear that he [Mbanjwa] was employed as a mayoral bodyguard, and was accused of shooting at a motorist’s vehicle while in the line of duty.

“After his conviction he spent only three years in prison and was out on parole,” the source claimed.

“I know that if you are found guilty of financial mismanagement in a municipality, you are not allowed to serve in any other municipality throughout the country for nine years. I don’t know what rules apply in a case like this one,” the source said.

Mbanjwa, according to reports at the time, had originally turned state witness in the Nkabinde trial.

But he was later re-arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit perjury and attempting to defeat the ends of justice for his alleged interference with the witnesses.

Mbanjwa’s attorney Simphiwe Mncwango said in cases involving political violence, like the Richmond killing, people were pardoned after applying for amnesty.

“I’m not saying my client is among those people. What I’m saying is that in handling this particular case of shooting on the N3, I’m not even concerned about the past conviction you are referring to. It is of no significance to this current matter,” said Mncwango.

Umgungundlovu Mayor Yusuf Bhamjee would not comment.

He referred The Witness to municipal manager Sbu Khuzwayo, who was in a meeting.

In response to questions about background checks and other vetting of mayoral VIP officers, Khuzwayo said: “I have applied my mind on the questions raised, and I am of the firm view that they form part of the confidential employer-employee relationship. Furthermore, this matter is the subject of a formal SAPS investigation and would I prefer to allow the law enforcement agencies to conclude their investigations without any undue influence. I will gladly release answers to SAPS or to your organisation upon a formal application in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act, Act 02 2000”.

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