2015’s crime battles won

2015-12-30 11:15
Police cars outside the clothing shop that was burgled during load-shedding on Wednesday night.

Police cars outside the clothing shop that was burgled during load-shedding on Wednesday night. (Supplied)

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Pietermaritzburg - The Pietermaritzburg region and its surrounds had a bloody 2015 with the area witnessing some of the most horrific murders during the year.

People were burnt, stabbed, hacked, strangled and executed.

A nun was raped before she was murdered, a child was abducted, killed and dumped in a forest and a teacher was killed with a panga.

The city and region also witnessed several violent protests, most notably at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in the lead-up to a national student movement best remembered under the social media tagline #FeesMustFall.

Amid all the violence, police also achieved several successes, closing down multiple brothels, arresting professional criminal gangs and puttng some of the most violent men behind bars for life.

In February this year, three murders rocked the city.

Susan (72) and Melvin Lawson (71) were both stabbed in the neck, had petrol poured on them and were then set alight before the intruders made off with their television set.

The Lawsons were found by a friend and neighbour of 17 years, lying bloodied and in flames in different rooms of their neatly kept home.

The incident took place at the elderly couple’s Oribi Village home.

The murderers have yet to be found.

Just a few days before, on February 23, the body of five-year-old Berg Street Primary school pupil Athandiwe Dumakude was found in the bush in Woodlands.

It is believed Athandiwe was abducted from the school premises while waiting outside and taken to a forest just off Otto’s Bluff Road.

Her body was found later that day dumped amid bags of rubbish, with a stab wound to the neck.

The murder caused an outcry directly aimed at security measures at schools to protect pupils after hours.

Athandiwe’s killer has also not been found.

Earlier that month, an alleged lover’s quarrel cost the lives of two young men in a murder-suicide that left almost an entire university campus in mourning.

The body of well-known Varsity College student Shavir Sunder (22) was found in his Scottsville flat just after 8 pm on February 5.

Sunder was allegedly strangled by his room-mate and partner, Suhayl Rambaran (30).

Rambaran, who was divorced and unemployed, then drove Sunder’s vehicle a few kilometres from the flat to a bush in the Lincoln Meade area where he doused his body in diesel and set himself alight.

In March, Umthoqotho High School teacher Gugulethu Gwamanda (58) was found dead in her car on a lonely forest road near Baynesfield.

Gwamanda was shot five times “execution-style”. It is believed that nothing was stolen from the vehicle.

Her pupils described her as a “nice and caring lady who was not too strict”. An intensive investigation by Plessislaer police led to the arrest of two men in April. Police traced one of the alleged killers to Oribi Village in Pietermaritzburg and the other to Howick.

What followed was equally horrific but this time it brought the attention of a global audience to the region.

The horrific rape, robbery and murder of 87-year-old Ixopo nun Sister Gertrud Tiefenbacher made international headlines when her body was found in her room at the Sacred Heart Convent on April 18.

The Austrian-born woman was raped, strangled with a towel and robbed of her foreign currency.

Mondli Shozi and Sibongiseni Phungula, both 25 years old, were sentenced to life imprisonment for the rape and murder.

Four months after Tiefenbacher’s murder, Villa Maria Primary School principal Nokuthula Magwanyana was killed allegedly by a group who had been trying to intimidate her into resigning.

She was found dead by a police detective in her car on the side of the winding Table Mountain road which leads from her school in the Maqongqo area. She was hacked to death with a panga.

Magwanyana was threatened days before her death, with vandals spray-painting messages on the walls of the school, saying that she would be killed if she did not resign.

Her killers are still on the loose.

Some of the most notorious gangs, robbers, and drug dealers were brought to book. Preventing prostitution was also a big focus this year.

In February, the fruits of an 18-month-long probe into drugs in Northdale led to the arrest of six notorious alleged drug dealers in one police swoop.

In November, an elite police squad worked tirelessly to bring down a Pietermaritzburg drug ring by shutting down a drug lab in Woodlands.

The suspect, a 40-year-old Nigerian national, was caught in the act of manufacturing large quantities of Methcathinone (commonly known as “Cat”) and crack cocaine.

The ‘Doorbell Gang’ and the ‘Bicycle Gang’, who had been operating in areas such as Scottsville and Hayfields were also nabbed.

The ‘Doorbell Gang’, called as such because they would ring the doorbell to make sure no one was home before they hit their target, were sophisticated burglars believed to have been involved in over 80 upmarket home robberies in Pietermaritzburg, stealing goods valued at millions of rands.

They were arrested after a high-speed chase on the N3 in April and about R1 million in stolen jewellery and electronic equipment was recovered.

In June, three men linked to a “highly sophisticated” bike racket were arrested and 37 entry-level bicycles valued at R75 000 were recovered.

It is suspected that the stolen bicycles, which were stored at residential properties, were “exported” across the border for resale.

Police also took a stance against prostitution in Pietermaritzburg by establishing a special task team close down brothels and illegal Bed and Breakfast facilities.

By July, the team served notices on more than 15 properties, shutting down five alleged brothels in the process, including Je Taime on the corner of Pietermaritz Street and Peter Kerchhoff Street as well as Dreamgirls, also known as Thirsty’s, on Hoosen Haffejee Street.

• amil.umraw@witness.co.za

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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