Justice at last for slain tavern owner

2019-07-10 06:01
Slain tavern owner Alfred Helepi. Photo: Teboho Setena

Slain tavern owner Alfred Helepi. Photo: Teboho Setena

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After there was apparent miscarriage of justice in the case of slain tavern owner Alfred Lejoni “Chencha” Helepi, justice is being served.

This is thanks to Judge Cagney Musi sentencing one of the five accused, Andile Banzini Gxamza (36) to 25 years effective imprisonment.

Gxamza was sentenced on 25 June after the Free State High Court in Bloemfontein found him guilty of the brutal murder of Helepi on 29 March 2016.

Gxamza got 20 years for murder and 15 years for armed robbery with aggravating circumstances. Ten years for robbery and the 20 years for murder will run concurrently. Gxamza will spend 25 years in prison before he becomes legible for parole.

Phaladi Shuping, spokesperson for the National Prosecution Authority, said the accused was also declared unfit to possess a firearm.

Helepi, who played for Moroka Swallows between 1960 and 1970, was shot twice in the chest while reportedly being in the shower at his house in Phahameng, Bloemfontein.

His murder initially become a miscarriage of justice due to puzzling aspects.

The case was struck from the roll and then reinstated after postponements by the Bloemfontein Regional Court.

This episode of failure of justice saw Gxamza with other four co-accused, Lesotho nationals Dira Moreenyane (34), Nthabiseng Lempe (35) and Alice Majake (30), as well as Ntsane Togowe (39) from Bloemfontein, released on 11 November 2016.

Apparently they were released because of a bungle by the state in appointing two state presiding officers who were reportedly unfamiliar with the case.

The accused were represented by Legal Aid South Africa’s practitioners Machini Motloung and Saintin Seithei­sho.

Later Togowe handed himself over after widespread reports that he was wanted regarding the murder of Helepi. The drama continued when Togowe, also known as Smith, “mysteriously” disappeared on 20 October 2018 during his trial in the High Court in Bloemfontein.

He vanished during lunchtime after Judge P.E. Moletsoane had adjourned proceedings for a lunch break. A warrant was issued to re-arrest Togowe. He was represented by Lawrence Tshabalala, also from Legal Aid SA.

The breakthrough in Helepi’s case followed the arrest of Gxamza by the Hawks in Port Elizabeth in July last year.

He remained in custody for the duration of the trial that ended with his conviction and sentencing to 25 years in prison.

According to evidence presented in court, Gxamza and his accomplices planned the armed robbery between 23 and 26 March 2016.

“They plan to accost the woman who was responsible for banking the income of the tavern on behalf of Helepi,” said Shuping.

The woman from Lesotho is one of the four fugitives still on the run.

Helepi’s family has welcomed the outcome after three years of waiting for justice to prevail.

“The last three years have been emotionally taxing for us as the suspects played hide-and-seek with the law. We were deeply dismayed by their antics.

“However, our confidence in the Bloemfontein Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks) and the judiciary remained firm as we conti­nued to pray for a day such as this where justice finally metes out harsh consequences for the cruel and evil murder of a defenceless, peace-loving man with a golden heart,” said Sello Helepi, family spokesperson.

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