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CAMPUS KILLINGS

Fort Hare murders — ex-SAPS member, 14 suspended university workers arrested

Fort Hare murders — ex-SAPS member, 14 suspended university workers arrested
University of Fort Hare Vice-Chancellor Professor Sakhela Buhlungu. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Alaister Russell)

The latest development brings the number of those arrested to 25, for the murders and attempted murder that are believed to be linked to a tender corruption syndicate.

Police have announced the arrest of 15 more people as part of the investigation into murder and attempted murder cases at Fort Hare University.

Sources close to the investigation said a former South African Police Service member now working in the security sector and 14 suspended staff members were arrested over the weekend. The staff members, including some in senior roles, were still going through disciplinary proceedings at the time of their arrest, the sources said. 

They include a human resources director, a supply chain manager and a member of the security and protection services team at the university, they added. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: University of Fort Hare VC’s roller-coaster ride for justice in face of murder and criminal syndicates

National police spokesperson Brigadier Athlenda Mathe said the national task team assigned to investigate the incidents made the arrests.

“This brings the number of those arrested in this case to 25 suspects,” she said.

Law enforcement had arrested the additional suspects in various provinces over the Easter weekend, including Gauteng, the Eastern and Western Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal. They faced charges ranging from fraud and corruption, to kidnapping, murder and attempted murder.

For Hare murders

Some of the suspects outside Alice Magistrates’ Court on 21 November 2023, reportedly facing two charges of murder and attempted murder in connection with the murder of Petrus Roets and Mboneli Vesele. (File photo: Lulama Zenzile / Die Burger / Gallo Images)

They are expected to appear in the Dimbaza Magistrates’ Court in the Eastern Cape on Tuesday, 2 April 2024. 

National Police Commissioner, General Fannie Masemola, said the task team will continue to do its work without fear or favour. 

“The team has been hard at work in getting to the bottom of who is behind fraud, corruption and the murders at the university. They will continue to investigate and hunt those who are found to have had a hand in any wrongdoing. Our focus is to bring before court a case that will be able to stand in court with all the evidence that has been collected by the team,” he said. 

Police Minister Bheki Cele and Masemola are expected to attend the court proceedings on Tuesday.

The university confirmed that it was aware of the arrests but said it would only comment after it had been briefed on Tuesday.

It has been 18 months since the first murder of an employee shook the tenure of the university’s vice-chancellor, Professor Sakhela Buhlungu, and 14 months since someone gunned down his bodyguard in front of his official residence. Buhlungu has since scaled back his public exposure.

In an exclusive interview with Daily Maverick last week, Buhlungu revealed how he had embarked on a crusade for justice, going all the way to the Presidency to try to bring closure to the slain men’s families and reassure his colleagues, university staff and students – and to see the guilty persons charged and convicted.

fort hare assassination

From left: Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele, Minister of Education Blade Nzimande and Minister of Police Bheki Cele at the funeral of Mboneli Vesele, the executive protection officer for the University of Fort Hare’s vice-chancellor, Professor Sakhela Buhlungu. (Photo: Twitter / @DrBladeNzimande)

The murders are believed to be linked to a tender corruption syndicate that has cost the institution millions of rands.

Petrus Roets, the university’s fleet and transport manager, was shot and killed in Gonubie, East London, on 19 May 2022. Mboneli Vesele, Buhlungu’s driver and bodyguard, was shot dead in Dikeni (formerly Alice) on 6 January 2023.

The police have arrested a fellow cop, a local businessman and lawyer, students, university employees – including the head of vetting and investigations, Isaac Plaatjies – and hitmen from KwaZulu-Natal in connection with the murders. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: I quit for my own safety, former Fort Hare deputy vice-chancellor says in wake of VC ‘assassination attempt’

In court documents, the State links Roets’s murder to an extensive anti-corruption campaign Buhlungu had initiated, which earned him death threats. Roets was one of the people he had appointed to correct the situation. Like all the new managers, he stopped all pending payments to service providers.

fort hare vesele

The funeral service for Mboneli Vesele, the bodyguard of University of Fort Hare Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sakhela Buhlungu. (Photo: Twitter / @DrBladeNzimande)

Vesele was appointed as Buhlungu’s bodyguard, which aggrieved Plaatjies, according to the indictment before court. It is alleged that some of the accused asked him to persuade Vesele to join their mission to oust Buhlungu, but he refused to betray his boss, giving the accused a reason to kill him.

Timeline

2017: Professor Sakhela Buhlungu starts his tenure as the vice-chancellor of the University of Fort Hare.

2017-2019: The university is rocked by student and staff protests.

2020: After noticing troubling practices and maladministration, Buhlungu starts investigations and implements sweeping reforms. What he does not know is that this has put him in the firing line of alleged syndicates at work at the university.

May 2022: The university’s fleet manager, Petrus Roets, one of Buhlungu’s appointees, is shot dead at his house in Gonubie. Buhlungu and other key personnel are given protection.

5 August 2022: The Special Investigating Unit starts an investigation into tenders and degree programmes at the university.

January 2023: Bodyguard Mboneli Vesele is shot and killed outside Buhlungu’s house in what is believed to be a missed hit on the vice-chancellor.

April 2023: Five suspects are arrested and charged. They are: Bongani Peter, the university’s chief operating transport officer; Wanini Khuza, a retired supervisor of drivers at the East London campus (he had been brought back on contract and was the chancellor’s driver); Sicelo Mbulawa, a former student representative council member and businessman who provides vehicle repair services to the university; Mthobisi Khanyile and Mthobisi Dlamini, alleged hitmen from KwaZulu-Natal, both with long criminal records. Their bail applications are initially refused, but Mbulawa is later granted R75,000 bail by the Eastern Cape Division of the High Court in Makhanda.

July 2023: A policeman attached to the detective services in Mthatha, Constable Lindokuhle Manjati, is arrested, charged and added as accused number six.

August 2023: Zimele Chiliza, a taxi boss from KwaZulu-Natal, and attorney Pelisa Nkonyeni are added as accused numbers seven and eight, respectively. Chiliza is released on R100,000 bail and Nkonyeni on R50,000.

September 2023: Thamsanqa Mgwetyana, who has been hiding from the police in KwaZulu-Natal, is found and added as accused number nine. He remains incarcerated. In court, it is said that he was the person who linked Isaac Plaatjies, the university’s director of vetting and investigations, to the murders.

17 November 2023: Plaatjies is arrested, charged and added as accused number 10. He remains incarcerated. In the latest court ruling on his attempts to obtain bail, the magistrate says he was the one who drew up the hit list. He is described as dangerous and dishonest by the court. 

31 March 2024: Fifteen suspects are arrested as part of the ongoing investigation into cases of murder and attempted murder at Fort Hare. They were arrested in various provinces including Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape. DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Michael Bowes says:

    Sounds fairly typical of any government enterprise, from the Umhlatusi Water Board to the Beaufort West town council to Transnet to………………. Any actual education going on over there?

  • Grant Abbott says:

    The National Tertiary Education Union welcomes the progress made by law enforcement with the investigation into the criminal network at UFH. However, the union remains concerned about this culture of corruption that has continued to thrive under the “watchful eye” of the Vice Chancellor.

    With the latest round of impending charges involving up to 25 suspects, the list of allegations include fraud, corruption, kidnapping and attempted murder and murder. Set off by an investigation by the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) into the abuse of state funds, fake degrees, and corruption the individuals; range from retirees, businessmen, common criminals, taxi bosses, policemen, attorneys, the wife of a policeman, university staff and management – people from all walks of life, painting a grim picture of reality in this community.

    Some of the implicated positions are already in the public domain. We have long held that the mafia state that has been allowed to flourish at Fort Hare cannot be divorced from the VC. As NTEU we are in possession of information and corroborating evidence, documented or testimonial statements in terms of some of the following:

    • The Supply Chain Manager left the university under suspicious circumstances in December 2023 and was awarded with a golden handshake of an undisclosed amount.
    • The HR Director suspended for alleged fraudulent qualifications, in Jan 2024, summarily dismissed the now infamous Plaatjies for alleged fraudulent qualifications.

  • Grant Abbott says:

    Furthermore, this is the very same “award-winning” HR Director that approved the irregular appointment of Plaatjies in the first place back in 2020 and who dismissed NTEU’s concerns as “baseless in law” when we raised concerns about Plaatjies’ selection and appointment process to the VC.
    • The suspended Executive Manager works in the office of the VC and reports directly to him.
    • The member of the Security and Protection Services Team was working very closely with Plaatjies. (Plaatjies as Director of Investigation and Vetting, reported directly to the VC.) This person enjoyed special benefits, such as having his wife employed as a Manager in HR by the same aforementioned HR Director – again, in contravention of the recruitment and selection policy. Worse still, while universities across the country are gun-free zones, this security and protection member carried his personal firearm on campuses with the full knowledge of the VC and other senior managers in the university. He too is reported to have furnished a fraudulent matric certificate when he joined the university.

    All of this points to a wide-spread network of fraud and corruption of the worst kind. In numerous instances, when one connects the dots, they keep linking back directly to the Vice-Chancellor. Many of the key people arrested thus far worked directly in the VC’s office and under his direction; some of these were even appointed directly by him.

  • Tshepang Moloi says:

    It is so astonishing that universities are now terrier of reign impelled by greed and enivy to be scavengers camouflaged as sheep (scholars) while they are jackals (mafias) to siphon billions of rands illicitly out of these revered institutions.
    The tangible progress of arrests is a step in a right direction, even if it a common cause that anything amiss can occur during criminal proceedings. Contrarily, I for one, shall wait with baited breath to discern whether successful conviction and sentencing will be obtained.

    • Middle aged Mike says:

      “I for one, shall wait with baited breath to discern whether successful conviction and sentencing will be obtained.”

      I wouldn’t recommend that Tshepang. Past performance of our criminal justice system suggests a serious risk of asphyxiation.

  • Anthony Krijger says:

    So it has taken from May 2022 until today for arrests in connection of the murders and endemic corruption. Cele should be ashamed that his police force has taken this long and should resign as his Mafia state has at long last been penetrated.

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