Witnesses have recounted how a Durban policeman and his gang terrorised and extorted the Glebelands Hostel.
A witness testifying in the trial of the so-called Glebelands Eight has told the court that a former police officer accused of leading the murderous cabal at Glebelands Hostel was a killer who called his illegal R5 rifle “beautiful”, supplied hitmen with weapons and stoked fear in the hearts of residents.
“We feared him, he was a killer,” the witness told the Pietermaritzburg High Court.
The man further alleged that former Durban Central plainclothes detective Bhekukwazi Mdweshu would draft letters for demonstrations, purporting to be from residents, to try to evict individuals who allegedly stood in the way of his “ruling” the hostel and extorting large sums of cash from terrified tenants.
The letters stated that the Glebelands community did not want the individuals at the hostel, said the witness, and although those listed were not evicted, most were killed.
“This was Mdweshu’s way [of expressing] himself that those people weren’t good for Glebelands. He wanted the municipality and the police [to think it was the residents making the claims],” said the witness.
“He would coach us on how to make an application for a [protest] march.”
The witness knew about the memos because he is a former block committee secretary at the hostel’s notorious Block 52, where Mdweshu had one of two rooms that he kept at the complex.
Mdweshu wanted the protest application to go via the witness so that it was signed and looked authentic, he said.
The man was the third person giving in camera testimony for the week. He took to the stand on Wednesday and Thursday and is set to continue tomorrow.
He was a long-time Glebelands resident who has been in witness protection since 2017 and is deemed crucial to the state’s case against Mdweshu and his alleged accomplices – Khayelihle Mbuthuma, Vukani Mcobothi, Eugene Wonderboy Hlophe, Ncomekile Matlala Ntshangase (Mdweshu’s cousin), Mbuyiselwa Mahliphiza Mkhize, Mondli Talente Mthethwa and Bongani Mbhele.
Together, they are facing 22 counts that include nine of murder and seven of attempted murder, alleged to have taken place between 2014 and 2016 in and outside the hostel.
Mdweshu has been charged with racketeering and extortion. The accused all pleaded not guilty when the trial started two weeks ago.
Mdweshu was known to carry the “big gun”, as residents called the R5 when speaking to City Press, and used to fire it into the air as a form of intimidation.
The gun, which the witness said Mdweshu described as “beautiful”, was bought from one of Mdweshu’s police colleagues and handed to him at the old Durban airport site in Reunion.
Mdweshu also arranged the purchase of an AK47 and had “some kind of pump gun”, according to the witness.
He allegedly demonstrated to the witness and others how the R5 should be used while in a room at the hostel. The weapon was kept in a black bag embroidered with the word “MAN”, said the witness.
Preceding the testimony of this witness, the court heard from two other men who are currently in the care of investigating officer Colonel Bhekumuzi Sikhakhane and his team.
Both of those witnesses testified to an attack that took place at Block R of the hostel in August 2014, which led to four counts of attempted murder being levelled against the accused, barring Mthethwa and Mbele.
It is at this incident that the state says Mdweshu was wounded by retaliatory fire from the since deceased William Mthembu, the alleged leader of the Mthembu gang, enabling police to place him at the scene via DNA.
The Mthembu gang was alleged to be at war with the Hlophe gang, allegedly led by the former cop and the since deceased Bonga Hlophe. The rival gangs are said to have fought for the spoils collected through the extortion of hostel residents.
At Monday’s sitting, the court was privy to details surrounding the murder of ANC councillor Princess Zodwa Sibiya, who worked in the Bluff area and lived at the hostel. In 2016, she was shot dead in front of her children inside her home.
Sikhakhane was testifying as to why proceedings should be held in camera when he mentioned Sibiya. He said she was in the car park of the Shoprite in Montclair when Mthembu and Thokozani Machi were gunned down after exiting the store in 2015. Sibiya’s car was damaged during the shooting.
None of the accused has been charged with councillor Sibiya’s death.
Sikhakhane said she was murdered because she was a witness to the shooting.
City Press understands that Sibiya did not see the actual perpetrators. It appears that she may have been murdered for precautionary measures, or because the perpetrators mistakenly thought she was able to identify them.
Sikhakhane said the councillor’s murder and the Shoprite shooting had been linked via ballistic testing.
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