Police arrest two suspects for Mkhondo councillor's murder

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Councillor Sbonelo Mthembu was killed following a shooting in Piet Retief on January 13. Photo: Supplied
Councillor Sbonelo Mthembu was killed following a shooting in Piet Retief on January 13. Photo: Supplied


Mpumalanga police have arrested two more suspects in connection with the assassination of ANC councillor in Mkhondo (Piet Retief) Sbonelo Mthembu (36).

Mthembu was ambushed on January 13 at Longhomes Township and was fatally shot alongside Sandile Khumalo (51) and Sizwe Bingo (40).

Police have since arrested former Mkhondo mayor, Vusi Motha (41), and Wellington Security owner, Wellington Sangweni (52), for the possession of unlicensed firearms, including an automatic rifle. However, the duo has not been linked to the murders and the weapons have been taken for ballistic testing.

Provincial police spokesperson Brigadier Selvy Mohlala said on Monday that two suspects were arrested on Sunday and were due to appear in court this afternoon (January 23). “They were arrested yesterday for questioning, and we are waiting for the prosecutor to agree to enrol this matter. They might appear in court this afternoon.” 

Mohlala said that they wanted to make sure this time that they had the right person. Last week, they arrested a man from KwaZulu-Natal, but the prosecutor declined to enrol the matter due to some loose ends.

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

Meanwhile, Mpumalanga Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs MEC Mandla Msibi will meet Mkhondo councillors on Wednesday to ascertain reasons the strife-torn municipality has been failing to deliver services.

The council has been on a knife edge lately following the assassination of two ANC councillors. Muzi Manyathi (41), who was also the ANC’s Gert Sibande regional deputy secretary, was shot dead in November last year.

Both Manyathi and Mthembu had, before their deaths, posted videos on social media announcing that they were aware that they were targets.

The root cause of the tension appears to have been sparked by the ANC’s factional fights, which have seen the municipality being governed by an independent mayor even though the ANC had won the votes by 54%. Six ANC councillors that include Motha voted with the opposition to elect the mayor, Mthokozisi Simelane, Speaker Mduduzi Dlamini from the African Transformation Movement, and chief whip Siphesihle Mkhwanazi from the EFF, as a sign of objection to the ANC’s national executive committee’s choice of a mayor.

READ: Mashatile ‘armed to the teeth’ after police tip

Msibi said that his intervention in the municipality had nothing to do with the assassinations but governance issues. He added:

Mkhondo is the only municipality that does not attend meetings with my department. These meetings discuss governance and MIG (Municipal Infrastructure Grant) issues. Lekwa (Standerton) is led by an independent mayor but they do attend these important meetings. I can’t fail in my responsibility to ensure that the people of Mkhondo are getting services.

Msibi said that he last met the Mkhondo troika last year following allegations that Simelane, councillors and officials splurged R700 000 of taxpayer’s money on a strategic workshop in Durban that coincided with the Durban July and Simelane’s birthday.

“After that meeting, I asked to meet the full council but when I returned, no one attended.” 

READ: Ramaphosa’s team guns for Gwede

DA caucus leader in Mkhondo municipality Irene Brussow said that service delivery would have improved if Msibi had intervened last year by putting the municipality under administration or commissioning a forensic investigation.

“Everybody is walking on eggshells here. I spoke to the MEC about these matters last year, but nothing happened,” Brussow said.

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