The lawyer of four people implicated in the murder of slain Mbombela speaker Jimmy Mohlala has welcomed the withdrawal of the cases against his clients.
The cases against former Constable Musa Mkhabela, 31, of KaNyamazane police station, Sakhile Mabika-Mona, 30, his mother, Jenny Mabika, 56, who is a cleaner at Rob Ferreira hospital, and an unemployed man, Moses Mahungela, were withdrawn at the Nelspruit circuit of the High Court on Monday due to lack of evidence.
“I said from the start that my clients were innocent and that the police had arrested the wrong people in this case…the real criminals are out there and enjoying themselves,” said the lawyer, Silungu Thobela, on Tuesday.
Thobela said poor people were often criminally charged and then unable to afford lawyers to defend them properly.
He said he helped an impoverished client in the Mohlala murder case free of charge because he believed that the police were making a mistake.
“I decided to represent him after realising he could not afford my services. See now, he’s free, along with the others,” he said.
Thobela criticised the prosecution team for forcing the case to go to trial although it was clear there was no evidence against his clients.
He said the case had cost his clients more than money. He said one had died due to a stress related illness while others had lost their jobs.
“The police must arrest the real people who killed Mohlala,” said Thobela.
National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga confirmed that the NPA had withdrawn the case due to lack of evidence, but said the police had been instructed to investigate the case further.
“(The police) are welcome to come forward at a later stage if they have more information on the case,” said Mhaga.
Initially, five people implicated in Mohlala’s murder were arrested on October 2010 – more than a year after Mohlala was killed at his home in KaNyamazane on January 4 2009.
The fifth suspect, former Constable Dumisani Mhlanga, 34, of the Nelspruit flying squad, died at Barberton hospital on May 19 last year, of what was described as stress related illness. Mhlanga and Mkhabela were dismissed from work in February last year after an internal investigation found that they were at the murder scene..
Altogether, the accused were out on R6 000 and R10 000 bail each.
In March last year, Mohlala’s widow Bonny Mohlala told AENS that she was convinced the five people accused in the murder were framed to protect the real killers. Mohlala and her son, Tshepiso, who was shot in the leg when his father was killed, had also told journalists that several men in police uniform once abducted them from their KaNyamazane home and took them to a secluded area where they were tortured and forced to make a confession regarding the slain speaker’s murder.
On Tuesday, Mpumalanga police Lieutenant Colonel Leonard Hlathi told AENS that police would continue their investigation.
“Charges being withdrawn doesn’t mean that these people are free, they are still suspects and we want to assure the public that the investigations are still continuing,” said Hlathi.
He said there were many instances where the right people were arrested but the cases were withdrawn due to weak evidence and statements taken from witnesses.
“However, after some time we see them being convicted of the same crime after charges were reinstated,” said Hlathi.
Provincial Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Anthony Benadie said it was sad that no one had been brought to book for Mohlala’s murder.
“The DA respects the judiciary and the decision to have the case removed from the roll, allegedly for lack of evidence, but believes that it is an unfortunate to return to square one, just over three years after the incident,” he said. “Despite the political hopes of a successful prosecution, which would have shed light on a number of questions and issues in the province, this decision will leave more questions than answers.”
In January last year, Mhaga told AENS that the NPA believed that Mohlala’s murder was part of the infamous politically-motivated “January Murders” that dogged Mpumalanga for three consecutive years.
Around the same time, suspended national police commissioner General Bheki Cele announced that he had sent a task team of 12 investigators to look into the January Murders.
Police have been implicated in the other January Murders.
A police-issue firearm was used to kill Mpumalanga’s sport, arts and culture spokesman Sammy Mpatlanyane on January 10 2010 at his home in Mbombela.
Two foreign nationals, Tanzanian Omary Issa, 29, and Mozambican national Nito Mashava, 28, and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Tupac Ntumba, 25, were arrested in April for the murder. They were both denied bail and were remanded in custody until the start of their trial next month.
In January 4 last year, chief whip of the Mbombela local municipality John Ndlovu was gunned down near his home in Edinburgh village, Bushbuckridge.
Four suspects, including a former police reservist at the Calcutta police station in Mkhuhlu, John Ndlovu, 35, (not related to the speaker), Bongani Mkasi, 27, Life Khoza, 22, and Mundi Khoza, (not related) were arrested later the same month.
Ndlovu’s charges were withdrawn while Life Khoza was sentenced to 20 years in prison after he confessed to the murder.