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Crucial cellphone evidence expected in Senzo Meyiwa murder trial as cop implicating accused is grilled

Crucial cellphone evidence expected in Senzo Meyiwa murder trial as cop implicating accused is grilled
Suspects at the Senzo Meyiwa murder trial in the Pretoria High Court on 4 May 2023. (Photo: Gallo Images / OJ Koloti)

On the stand in the Pretoria High Court this week, Constable Sizwe Skhumbuzo Zungu claimed to have seen the five accused on the night of soccer star Senzo Meyiwa’s murder. He kept the information to himself for five years.

The week ahead will be critical in the Senzo Meyiwa trial as the High Court in Pretoria is expected to hear crucial evidence from a cellphone expert who analysed data from the phones confiscated from two of the five men on trial for the murder.

The information is expected to shed some light on the whereabouts of Bongani Sandiso Ntanzi and Sifisokuhle Ntuli on 26 October 2014, when Meyiwa was killed, which is pivotal to the State’s case. Both the accused, through their legal teams, have denied involvement in the commission of the crime. The cellphone evidence could also point to possible alibis. 

The other accused on trial are Muzikawukhulelwa Sibiya, Mthobisi Prince Mncube and Mthokoziseni Maphisa. They are all facing charges that include murder, attempted murder, robbery with aggravating circumstances and possession of firearms and ammunition without licences.

They have pleaded not guilty to Meyiwa’s killing, but they are currently serving time or awaiting trial for unrelated crimes.

It is the third time that the court will hear evidence from a cellphone expert in the matter. In August, Colonel Lambertus Steyn, testified that an analysis of Meyiwa’s then-girlfriend Kelly Khumalo’s cellphone, which was allegedly stolen by intruders, showed no cellphone calls had been made by people inside the house to police or an ambulance on the fateful night.

Instead, the data revealed that Khumalo’s phone received 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, according to Steyn.  

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

Meanwhile, another 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. 

Meyiwa’s killers were ‘nervous’

This week, the trial resumed following a three-week adjournment with police Constable Sizwe Skhumbuzo Zungu in the hot seat. In his evidence-in-chief, he implicated all five accused. 

He testified that on the day Meyiwa was killed, he partied with the accused, to whom he was introduced for the first time that day. They drank alcohol at Basothong hostel in Vosloorus where his nephew, Gwabini Zungu, resided.  

The accused at some point disappeared from the hostel and returned hours later, visibly nervous, according to Zungu’s testimony. “Accused two left the house and he came back and was wearing a different jacket, and they were nervous.”

Two of the five accused men in the Senzo Meyiwa murder trial speak to their legal representative in the Pretoria High Court on 17 July 2023. (Photo: Gallo Images / Phill Magakoe)

On their return, Zungu witnessed an exchange of firearms between the accused and his nephew, Gwabini. 

At the time, he testified that he was suspicious of their behaviour, but was uncertain whether the accused could have possibly committed a crime, and as a result, did not effect any arrests or report the incident.

He learnt of Meyiwa’s shooting the next day but did not act. 

It was only in 2018/19, five years after the incident, that Zungu’s suspicions were confirmed when police wrongfully arrested a man, Zamokuhle Mbatha, in connection with Meyiwa’s murder, and he blew the whistle, informing his cluster commander, General Vincent Leshabane, who said he would conduct his own investigation into Meyiwa’s killing.

Throughout his cross-examination, Zungu admitted he had withheld information, saying he was not part of the investigating team. Despite spending the day, partying and drinking with them, he denied being friends with any of the accused. 

‘No friends with criminals’

“They are not my friends; I am a police officer. I cannot be friends with criminals,” Zungu said.

That statement prompted presiding Judge Ratha Mokgoatlheng to warn Zungu against the use of “character assassination language”.

Through their legal representatives, the five accused have all denied ever being at Basothong hostel or ever meeting Zungu, suggesting that his evidence was fabricated. 

Zungu’s conduct on the fateful night was heavily criticised by the defence this week, particularly by Advocate Zandile Mshololo, who represents Ntuli, and Advocate Zithulele Nxumalo, who represents Maphisa. 

They used his conduct to discredit him as a reliable and truthful State witness. They argued that his conduct bordered on unprofessionalism, and violated his oath of office. He also faced tough questions for withholding critical information that could have helped resolve the murder trial much sooner.

Rogue police officer

Adv Mshololo not only poked holes in Zungu’s testimony but suggested that he was a rogue police officer. 

“What kind of a police officer are you? Are you even a police officer? You witness a crime and don’t do anything about it and keep quiet for so long?”

Adv Nxumalo, representing Maphisa, followed the same line of questioning and did not mince his words in slamming Zungu’s withholding of crucial information.

“This is going to haunt you now and again because you, as a member of the South African Police Service, had knowledge about a person who has been [wrongfully] arrested. You had information about the person who was involved, and yet you did nothing for a case that could have been solved as early as back in 2014,” Nxumalo said.

During his cross-examination this week, it also emerged that in 2019 Zungu had another meeting with two police officers, Colonel Joyce Buthelezi and Warrant Officer Meshack Makhubo. 

Probed by Adv Mshololo on what he told the officers, Zungu suggested that they were hardly interested in the suspects, but were focused on the Khumalo family.

Cops interested in Kelly Khumalo’s family

“Colonel Buthelezi did not ask me a lot about the suspects. Her emphasis was more on the Khumalo family. I said to her I’m not related to Khumalos and that they are unknown to me,” Zungu responded.   

Asked if he revealed information about the suspects, the cop maintained his position.

“I told her that I knew the suspects. She did not ask about the description. Colonel Buthelezi didn’t have much interest in the suspects, but she had the inclination to ask me about the Khumalo family,” Zungu said.  

Read more in Daily Maverick: Zandie Khumalo’s u-turn on the stand – can now ID suspect as an intruder on day of killing

New witness

On Wednesday, a new State witness was due to take the stand. However,  State prosecutor George Baloyi requested that the court give the defence two days to familiarise itself with some of the evidence that was due to be presented by the new cellphone expert. 

“His report was only received on Friday, my Lord, and the defence were given copies on Monday, and certain annexures are referred to in his report and those annexures were only made available today, and they were given to the defence during the adjournment, and they’ve indicated that they would like time to consult their clients regarding the report, and we do not have a problem with that.”  

However, Adv Mshololo appeared to have objections as she pointed out how they all had had a two-week recess that they could have used to familiarise themselves with the evidence. 

However, Adv Charles Mnisi, representing Mncube, argued that the document supplied to them was voluminous, requiring time to go through before consulting their clients. 

“There are drawings here, there are schematic representations, so we need to tie this information given to us on Monday to the evidence already given by Mr Steyn.” 

Ultimately, Judge Mokgoatlheng granted the request for two days and the trial is now expected to continue on Monday, 9 October. DM


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