Former mayor nabbed for possession of unlicensed firearm after councillor's assassination

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Councillor Sbonelo Mthembu was killed following a shooting in Piet Retief on Friday. Photo: Supplied
Councillor Sbonelo Mthembu was killed following a shooting in Piet Retief on Friday. Photo: Supplied


Former Mkhondo Local Municipality (Piet Retief) mayor Vusi Motha (41) has been charged with possession of an unlicensed firearm. The police had since taken it for ballistic tests to ascertain if it was not the weapon that was used to assassinate ANC councillor Sbonelo Mthembu (36) on Friday.

On Monday, the police arrested Motha alongside a security company owner, Wellington Sangweni (52), after finding them with firearms that included an automatic rifle.

Motha and Sangweni appeared in the Piet Retief Magistrates' Court on Tuesday and their case was postponed to January 24 for bail application. Sangweni is facing fraud and contravention of the Firearms Control Act and the Private Security Industry Regulation Act of 2001.

Mpumalanga police spokesperson Brigadier Selvy Mohlala said that the police had not yet confirmed if the duo murdered Mthembu, his friend Sizwe Mbingo (40) and mechanic Sandile Khumalo (51) at Longhomes township outside Piet Retief on January 13. The trio was ambushed and sprayed with bullets when Mthembu’s vehicle was being fixed.

READ: Mkhondo: Mpumalanga's new epicentre of political assassinations

“The firearms were taken for ballistic testing, and we will confirm if they can be linked to the murder,” Mohlala said.

Motha’s arrest comes two days after he told City Press he was in the process of suing Mthembu for defamation of character before he died.

Mthembu posted a Facebook video last November, accusing Motha of having been behind the assassination of former ANC Gert Sibande regional secretary, Muzi Manyathi (41). Manyathi was also fatally shot at close range on November 4 2021 after he had purchased some items at a kiosk in Piet Retief.

Manyathi’s tragic death came after he posted on his Facebook that he was going to be assassinated due to ANC infighting.

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The former mayor’s arrest follows Police Minister Bheki Cele’s decision to appoint a team of police officers with experience in the investigation of political killings.

Motha said on Monday that he was demanding R500 000 from the late councillor and denied that he had killed anyone.

He claimed:

I’m one of those people who wishes that the police can have a breakthrough. I have children and a business and it would be a stupid move for me to kill someone who recorded himself speaking about me. I can’t leave everything for that.

Motha added that violence was not how he fought his battles, as he had spent R1.1 million fighting the ANC to reinstate him after he was dismissed for misconduct relating to voting against the party in the Mkhondo municipality.

Motha and five former ANC councillors have since joined the EFF following their dismissal after their votes assisted an independent councillor to be the mayor.

The Speaker’s and chief whip’s positions also went to the opposition, costing the ANC the governance of the municipality for the first time since democracy.

EFF chairperson in Mpumalanga Collen Sedibe was not available to comment.

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