Opinionista Vanessa Burger 22 August 2019

‘Glebelands Eight’ go on trial as fears rise of more witness assassinations

More than 107 witnesses are expected to testify in the ‘Glebelands Eight’ trial. Some have been in witness protection since 2016. They have risked and put their lives on hold, indefinitely, for an uncertain outcome.

On Monday 26 August 2019, the Pietermaritzburg High Court will begin hearing Case: CC/18 DPP Ref: D 8/18 – better known as the “Glebelands Eight”.

Between 5 and 8 December 2017 – days before the ANC’s 54th elective conference – Durban Central SAPS Detective Sergeant Bhekukwazi Louis Mdweshu and Glebelands hostel residents Khayelihle “Mroza” Mbuthuma, Vukani Manenze Mcobothi, Eugene Wonderboy Hlophe, Mbuyiselwa Mkhize and Ncomekile Matlale Ntshangase were arrested during combined unit operations in various parts of KwaZulu-Natal.

In the weeks that followed, two more suspects, Mondli Talente Mthethwa and Bongani Mbhele, were also arrested and their cases joined to the existing accused.

Mdweshu was charged with racketeering (“forming and leading a criminal syndicate with the purpose to kill or eliminate persons who resided at Glebelands Hostel”), and, together with his seven co-accused, also charged under common purpose on nine counts of murder, six counts of attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder and extortion. Mthethwa has additionally been charged with possession of a prohibited firearm – an automatic pistol – and ammunition.

Mbuthuma, Mthethwa and Mbhele were also charged separately for other unrelated Glebelands murders and attempted murders.

While Mthethwa and Mbhele’s cases are ongoing, Mbuthuma, 28 at the time of his arrest, was in 2018 also sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Glebelands grandmother Sibongile “Ma” Mtshali. Mtshali was gunned down in the presence of her granddaughter and a neighbour on 26 July 2017 by hitmen posing as customers in the tuckshop she ran from her room in Block 46. Sources claim she did not die immediately and an accomplice had to return to finish her off. During proceedings, Mbuthuma reportedly told the court he was aware of around 200 Glebelands killings – almost double the total number of murders recorded.

More than 107 witnesses are expected to testify in the “Glebelands Eight” trial. Some have been in witness protection since 2016. They have risked and put their lives on hold, indefinitely, for an uncertain outcome.

In April 2018, an elaborate plot emanating from inside prison was exposed in which there were alleged plans to assassinate the senior state prosecutor in this matter, Advocate Dorian Paver. Paver was assigned round-the-clock personal protection.

Since the arrest of the Glebelands Eight and sentencing of a number of other hitmen in 2018, violent incidents at the hostel have declined by almost 60%. This year (2019) at Glebelands, five murders and one attempted murder have been linked to associates of the accused. Other investigations are still in progress.

Over the past week we have received information that there have been attempts to extort money – R80 per person – from residents of Glebelands old blocks. The organisers of these collections are known and it has been reported to the police. We do not know if the money is to be used to transport supporters to court or for other, more sinister purposes such as to eliminate witnesses. Whatever the reason, almost without exception, collections bring death to Glebelands. Six witnesses have been assassinated since 2014.

There have also been previous attempts to destabilise the community and create fear each time the Glebelands Eight case goes to court. There are unconfirmed rumours that new hitmen have recently been brought in to the hostel. We have therefore requested increased security at Glebelands and the court precinct as well as for all witnesses, investigating officers and court officials for the duration of the trial.

We hope that the media – which has played a critical role in exposing the carnage, the appalling living conditions, the structural violence that facilitated the Glebelands meltdown, and, to a degree, the politics behind it – will cover this important trial in depth.

We thank the investigating officers and brave witnesses who have brought this case so far and wish them success, strength and safety. We hope this trial may lead to further arrests and perhaps even expose the faceless principals behind the killings, as well as those in uniform who helped cover up their actions for so long.

As always, vigilance is critical. Justice must be seen to be done. For without justice, there can be no peace for the community, no closure and no way forward.

In the words of Martin Luther King Jr: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” DM

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