Alleged gang members deny terrorising foreign shop owners for 'protection money'

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Alleged gang members are before court.
Alleged gang members are before court.
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  • The two men, accused of forcing foreign owned shops in Mamelodi to pay them "protection money" say the charges are trumped up.
  • The men have also been linked to a notorious gang in Mamelodi, who call themselves Boko Haram.
  • The State has maintained that it has a strong case and has admissions by the accused. 

While the State has accused two men, allegedly linked to a notorious gang in Mamelodi, of forcing foreign-owned shops to pay "protection fees," the accused claim they work with foreign business owners and help them to integrate into the community.

Babli Mtswene, known as "Spa", and Clarence Ngobeni, known as "Gaga" appeared in the Pretoria Magistrate's Court on Tuesday, where they applied for bail.

Both men have been charged with robbery with aggravating circumstances. The State alleges that the men and the gang they are linked to have been terrorising foreign shop owners in Mamelodi, forcing them, at gunpoint, to pay money to the gang.

Police have said the two men are believed to be part of the gang Boko Haram, named after the jihadist extremist organisation in West Africa.

In their affidavits before court, both men dismissed the allegations against them and vehemently denied being Boko Haram members.

Far from being extortionists, Ngobeni said he and Mtswene active members within community structures that have helped the community and foreign business owners in various projects.

READ | 2 more alleged Boko Haram gang members arrested in Gauteng

"We work in conjunction with foreign business owners to not only assist the community, but also assist them in integrating them into the community and assist with their of dilemmas of xenophobic attacks, looting of their shops and crime in general perpetrated against them," Ngobeni said.

He said they also established a beneficiation scheme where clothing and food were donated to the sick and disabled. They also help with the restoration of houses of the poorest of the poor, he said.

Ngobeni said there was a plot coupled with political interference and third forces that wanted to get rid of him because he is a community liaison for projects in the area. He added he was also in line to become a ward councillor.

Bronynne Forbay, the attorney for both accused, said the police were before the court with "dirty hands" and all evidence that exonerates the accused has been ignored by the investigating officers.

He further told the court that foreign shop owners would corroborate the accused's version.

Both accused were also of the opinion that the charges were trumped up.

Confessions

Following the arrests, advocate Molathlwa Mashuga, for the State, told the court that both men had made several admissions, including receiving money from foreign shop owners.

These confessions were denied by the accused.

"Firstly, it is not clear on what basis the applicants are denying the statements. Secondly, they contradict themselves by confirming parts of the statement in their affidavits before this honourable court, especially the fact that they collected money from foreign shop owners," Mashuga said.

READ | Two suspects linked to notorious Mamelodi gang charged with fraud, theft

He added that it was unlikely that police would force the accused to admit to receiving money, but raise the defence that they did so by agreement with the shop owners.

Ngobeni said he was interrogated until the early morning hours after his arrest, and was not allowed to read the statement that he was forced to sign.

"The Colonel or Captain started interviewing me, and he informed me that he was called to come and obtain a statement, and I must not waste his time as he was already in bed when he got that instruction. He, despite protestation, continued interviewing me and took down a statement, which I am advised is a purported confession," Ngobeni said.

'Unlawful arrest'

Both accused alleged that their arrest was unlawful and that they were not read their rights or allowed to contact their attorney.

Ngobeni added that he was not arrested on any open charge and that a docket was opened, and witness statements were taken after his arrest.

He further claimed that police road around with him and intimidated foreign shop owners to implicate him in wrongdoing.

"During the time we drove around with the task team members, they interrogated and threatened foreign shop owners to give statements, failing which they will arrest them and deport them."

READ | Case against two allegedly linked to Boko Haram gang postponed as lawyer not in court

Mashuga rubbished these allegations, explaining that both men were arrested based on an inquiry that was opened in February this year.

"At the time of the arrest, the police had information that the applicants committed a schedule one offence and acted lawfully in arresting them."

He added that the evidence relied on by the prosecution in the matter was overwhelming and consisted of direct evidence of complainants implicating the applicants, some of which did so by their nicknames.

"This information has been available to the police well before the arrests were made. This evidence is, in fact, corroborated by the applicants themselves in their exculpatory statements which amount to admissions."

The bail applications were postponed to 14 April for judgment.

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