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Startling twists in Senzo Meyiwa’s murder trial as no-nonsense former Orlando Pirates soccer player judge cracks the whip

Startling twists in Senzo Meyiwa’s murder trial as no-nonsense former Orlando Pirates soccer player  judge cracks the whip
Five accused – Muzikawukhulelwa Sthemba Sibiya, Bongani Sandiso Ntanzi, Mthobisi Prince Ncube, Mthokoziseni Ziphozonke Maphisa and Sifisokuhle Ntuli – in the Senzo Mayiwa murder trial stand in the dock on 17 July, 2023. Judge Ratha Mokgoatlheng has taken over the trial, which has started anew. (Photo: Gallo Images/Phill Magakoe)

For almost nine years of long, slow court proceedings, soccer star Senzo Meyiwa was thought to have been killed by robbers. But new evidence – and a new judge – puts another slant on things.

Footballer Senzo Meyiwa was fatally shot on 26 October 2014 at the home of the mother of singer Kelly Khumalo, his girlfriend, in Vosloorus, southeast of Johannesburg.

The High Court in Pretoria heard startling evidence linking Khumalo with an alleged hitman, Sifisokuhle Ntuli, one of five men accused of the murder.

In January 2022, Ntuli was sentenced to six life sentences and 39 years in an unrelated matter. He was convicted of killing ANC councillor Thami Nyembe in KwaNongoma, KwaZulu-Natal, in 2016. Nyembe was shot and killed while he was driving with his wife, who was severely wounded.

Ntuli was also convicted for other crimes, including murder, attempted murder and unlawful possession of firearms.

State witness Colonel Lambertus Steyn, of the cold case investigation unit based in the SAPS head office in Pretoria, a man with 40 years of experience, said analysis showed no cellphone calls had been made by people inside the house on the fatal night – no calls were made to police or an ambulance.

Steyn said data revealed that Khumalo got two calls from Ntuli before Meyiwa’s death. The first call was made on 2 August 2014 and the second on 15 October 2014, eight days before the murder.

Senzo Meyiwa trial restarts

JOHANNESBURG, Singer Kelly Khumalo shortly after the murder of her boyfriend Senzo Meyiwa in 2014. (Photo by Gallo Images / Foto24 / Felix Dlangamandla)

On trial are Ntuli and Muzikawukhulelwa Sibiya, Bongani Sandiso Ntanzi, Mthobisi Prince Mncube and Mthokoziseni Maphisa, who are facing charges that include murder, attempted murder, robbery with aggravating circumstances and possession of firearms and ammunition without licences.

They have all pleaded not guilty. But they are currently serving time or awaiting trial for unrelated crimes.

‘My killing machine’

The fifth State witness, cellphone data analyst Sergeant Moses Mabasa, who analysed data from Mncube’s cellphone in 2015 after his arrest in an unrelated case, found a picture of a gun, captioned “my killing machine” and photos of piles of R100 and R200 notes.

Mncube’s pictures showed he had dreadlocks at the time and was wearing clothes identified by witnesses on the day Meyiwa was murdered.

During the cross-examination of Steyn and Mabasa, the defence attempted to discredit some of the evidence presented. Legal expert JP Venter, however, believes the evidence is solid, so much so that “it is going to [be] difficult to challenge this type of evidence because it is evidence generated by a machine, it is not human evidence …”.

Another legal expert, Mannie Witz, said all evidence could be challenged by lawyers with a good grip of the law, procedures and technicalities. “If they are jacked up and if they are competent, they will be able to challenge it. Whether the challenge will succeed or not is another story.”

Meyiwa’s trial started 16 months ago with Judge Tshifhiwa Maumela presiding. It was marred by considerable delays, including changes of legal representation.

Despite continuing for over a year, and hearing evidence from five State witnesses, not one person answered the question: who killed Meyiwa? Was he killed in a robbery gone wrong or was it a cold-blooded murder?

Justice delayed

In June, President Cyril Ramaphosa cracked the whip and suspended Maumela for misconduct relating to alleged excessive delays in handing down a number of judgments.

Judicial norms and standards are that, save for exceptional cases, judgments must be handed down within three months. Complaints against Maumela involved 12 judgments outstanding for 24 to 26 months.

The President tasked the Judicial Conduct Tribunal with investigating.

Weeks later, the Meyiwa trial was postponed because of Maumela’s ill health. Gauteng Deputy Judge President Aubrey Ledwaba told the court Maumela could not go on.

Two weeks ago the trial started afresh, with Judge Ratha Mokgoatlheng at the helm. The move to bring Mokgoatlheng out of retirement was welcomed in the legal fraternity and by the public and Meyiwa’s family.

Who is Judge Mokgoatlheng?

Mokgoatlheng was born and bred in Alexandra township. He is a former soccer player, who in his early 20s joined Orlando Pirates and later Kaizer Chiefs.

He studied law at the University of Fort Hare, practised law for several years and in 2019 was admitted as a judge. He has vast experience of South African law and does not shy away from tough talk.

This week, he issued a stern warning to defence attorney Charles Mnisi’s line of cross-examination, saying “a criminal trial is not a game” and “get to the meat of the cross-examination”.

Mokgoatlheng has high-profile trials under his belt, including the imprisonment of the head of Crime Intelligence Richard Mdluli for kidnapping, assault and assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. He also hit the killer of pregnant Tshegofatso Pule with a 20-year jail term.

A no-nonsense approach

Since his arrival, the trial has made significant strides, uncovering startling evidence in the testimony of six witnesses. Both Venter and Witz said this was expected, given Mokgoatlheng’s experience, depth of knowledge and “no-nonsense approach”.

According to a defence lawyer, when he arrived on the case, Mokgoatlheng summoned prosecutor George Baloyi and all the defence attorneys to warn them he would not tolerate frivolous delays.

The trial is scheduled to continue until 15 September.

Testimonies:

In addition to two experts who gave testimony during the week, the court also heard from Kelly Khumalo’s sister, Zandile, two neighbours – Nthabiseng Mokete and Khaya Ngcatshe – and Senzo Meyiwa’s childhood friend, Mthokozisi Thwala, who all spoke about what transpired on the fateful night in 2014.

Zandile Khumalo: She said two intruders, one with a gun and another weapon, entered the house and demanded cellphones and money, before a scuffle broke out between Meyiwa and one of the intruders. She identified Bongani Ntanzi as one of the intruders.

Khaya Ngcatshe: He heard a commotion and a “strange” noise coming from the Khumalo home, prompting him to peep through his bedroom window, which faces the Khumalo kitchen. When he went to inquire, he said people ran out of the Khumalo home. Inside, he saw Meyiwa lying on the floor.

Nthabiseng Mokete: At the time of the shooting, she was seated in a parked car across the road from the Khumalo house. She saw three unidentified men flee the house shortly after three gunshots were fired.

Mthokozisi Thwala: He corroborated Zandile Khumalo’s testimony that two intruders entered and demanded cellphones and money on the night Meyiwa was killed. Five years after Meyiwa’s killing, Thwala testified that he was fetched from his KwaZulu-Natal home under the pretence that he needed to identify the intruders, only to be assaulted, tortured and forced to admit to killing his friend. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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