GLEBELANDS EIGHT TRIAL
Former Durban detective denies being the leader of a gang of hitmen
A former detective at Durban Central Police Station has told the Pietermaritzburg High Court that witness testimony claiming he led a gang of hitmen and extortionists between August 2014 and March 2016 at Umlazi’s notorious Glebelands Hostel was ‘all lies’.
‘No such thing happened.”
“That is a lie.”
“The State is lying.”
“[The witness] must have been dreaming it”, said Accused No 1, Bhekukwazi Mdweshu, as his advocate, Martin Krog, led him through the State’s allegations on Thursday.
Mdweshu is the first of the so-called Glebelands Eight to take the stand in his own defence pertaining to multiple counts of conspiracy to commit murder, murder, attempted murder and racketeering.
“Accused One has elected to testify,” said Krog at the start of proceedings.
The 40-year-old and most of his co-accused were arrested in December 2017 and have been imprisoned since, as the trial — that began in August 2019 — lumbers on. Covid-19 restrictions have caused lengthy delays.
Mdweshu kept a room at Block 52 of the sprawling, violent complex and later another residence at Block T. It is from Block 52 that he allegedly led what was known as the Hlophe Gang, with Bonga Hlophe, a “known hitman” operating from Glebelands.
Hlophe was shot dead in his hostel room in October 2015.
The group would allegedly extort money from Glebelands residents — estimates put the population at anything between 18,000 and 22,000 — via a protection racket, with the takings being used to buy illegal firearms, among other items.
Krog led Mdweshu through all of the charges, but it is evident that the State has a particularly strong case for counts four to seven of the indictment — the attempted murders of alleged rival gang leader and extortionist William Mthembu, and Bongani Mthembu, Mandlakayise Dyanthi and Lucas Mbekelwa, all Block R residents.
It is the alleged incidents leading to these counts that Mdweshu expanded on most in court.
The attempted murders took place on 19 August 2014 at an outside garage at Block R, with four witnesses having placed a wounded Mdweshu and some of his co-accused at the scene. The State has identified blood found at the scene on an empty bottle of Sunfoil oil as belonging to Mdweshu, and claims he was wounded as a result of retaliatory gunfire from the Mthembu gang.
Mdweshu admitted earlier in the trial that he had indeed been shot on the night in question, but said on Thursday that this was not because he was part of the gang trying to attack Mthembu and company. Mdweshu said he was shot while trying to make his way to his T Section residence.
The witnesses in this case — several had to be placed in police protection to avert possible murder attempts — are themselves, given their own testimonies, implicated in various crimes and gang activities at the hostel.
Asked by Krog to describe the circumstances that led to his being shot on 19 August, Mdweshu lifted his chin slightly, drew his neck back, and quietly responded:
“On 19 August, around 7pm, I was in room 47 of Block 52 in the company of Accused Five [Ncomekile Ntshangase, who is Mdweshu’s cousin and a former SANDF member and Metrorail employee] and my nephew.
“We were playing music. After 7pm, at about 7.15pm or so, I am not too certain, I left them and proceeded to the back of Block 47 — the route was leading to Block 46 — and that’s where I [saw] Bonga Hlophe standing with a lady, between Block 46 and Block 47.
“Bonga Hlophe asked me where I was going, and I said, to my room [in Block T]. He then told me to be careful as he had heard gunshots in the vicinity of Block T. I then continued on in the direction of Block 45 to [get to] Block T.
“As I ascended, I noticed two men approaching from the opposite side, coming from Block T. They had small firearms,” said Mdweshu, gesturing with his hands to describe the size of the firearms and how they were pointed at him.
“I got a fright; I stopped. As I stopped, they advanced and fired. I retreated and got shot through the right thigh. I turned and fled.”
“Where to?” asked Krog.
“I went back on the same route. I met Bonga Hlophe again between Block 46 and Block 47. The lady wasn’t with him any more. Hlophe and I were standing next to Block 47 and then he left me at that spot. I asked him to tell [Accused No 5, Ntshangase — Mdweshu’s cousin] that he should get hold of a car to pick me up as I could not walk.
“Ntshangase picked me up and took me to hospital in a white Toyota Corolla… which is my car…. I was taken to Kingsway Hospital.”
It is at this stage unclear why Mdweshu was taken to Kingsway Hospital, a 15-minute drive from Glebelands, instead of Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital, a six-minute drive from the hostel. This question, among others, is sure to be asked by senior State prosecutor advocate Dorian Paver when he cross-examines Mdweshu on Monday.
The court had also heard earlier in the trial that Mdweshu told the attending doctor that he had been injured in a hijacking.
Krog asked him about this, to which Mdweshu responded: “That is true. I didn’t want Umlazi police to know I was injured and open a case [at Umlazi Police Station], because I don’t trust them.”
The trial has been peppered with allegations and insinuations of “bad apples” at Umlazi Police Station, with some of the officers allegedly being involved in the extortion racket, and others allegedly providing Mdweshu with illegal weapons. One such officer was reportedly seen “celebrating” with Mdweshu when William Mthembu was finally murdered.
Mdweshu and three of his co-accused are also facing a murder charge for Mthembu’s murder and that of Thokozani Machi. Both were gunned down at a shopping centre in Montclair in September 2015. Machi was an uncle of one of the State witnesses. DM