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KwaZulu-Natal - When Johannesburg police circulated a picture of an alleged killer who had escaped from custody, alarm bells rang for their counterparts in KwaZulu-Natal, where some knew him for his sterling work as a police brigadier.
Zimbabwean Musa or Muzi Khumalo had escaped from a Joburg jail early last year, allegedly with the help of a warder, only days after he had been charged with murder.
Now there are concerns that he may have used his “position” in the elite Hawks unit to shut down opposition crime syndicates.
National police commissioner General Riah Phiyega and Hawks boss Lieutenant-General Anwa Dramat are determined to see him behind bars.
Khumalo, who had allegedly worked for months out of various northern KZN police stations, had been lauded for his success rate in the province, where he helped police recover more than 40 stolen and hijacked cars in recent months.
But there may have been a selfish motive for his work, according to a well-placed source: “There is reason to believe that Khumalo was also allegedly involved in a car theft and hijacking syndicate.
“He was suffocating his rivals in crime to help sustain his alleged operation.”
Hawks spokesman McIntosh Polela said a warrant of arrest had been issued for Khumalo, and that Phiyega and Dramat had taken a personal interest in the case.
So much so that crime intelligence units and tracking teams in KZN and Gauteng have been instructed to work around the clock to bring Khumalo to book.
It is believed that Khumalo may have returned to Joburg.
Polela said the details of the Joburg murder were unclear, but confirmed that Khumalo had escaped from custody.
He said Khumalo had claimed to be a policeman based at the KZN provincial headquarters.
KZN police spokesman Colonel Vincent Mdunge said Khumalo was an imposter.
“Since his picture was circulated as a wanted criminal, we have secured his profile... we know who he is and what he looks like. A task team has been appointed to track him down. He does not use an alias. This is his name. We will find him.
“The picture in his passport and that on the wanted persons list, are a match. He is aware that police are looking for him. He has switched his phone off.”
Khumalo had claimed that he had close ties to provincial police commissioner, Lieutenant-General Mmamonnye Ngobeni.
Mdunge said Ngobeni had no idea who Khumalo was.
The police source described Khumalo as a “hardcore criminal” with alleged links to a car theft and hijacking syndicate in KZN.
Khumalo had a South African identity document and passport, the source said.
“He entered the country legally from Zimbabwe. It is unknown how he obtained these falsified documents. According to the Department of Home Affairs, Khumalo was declared dead in 2008.”
He said they were still waiting for a report from the Home Affairs Department.
The source said when Khumalo escaped from police custody in Johannesburg, he fled to KZN.
“When he got here, he befriended several policemen. He gave them the impression that he was a policeman too.
“He introduced himself as Brigadier Musa Khumalo and claimed to be from the Hawks in Pretoria. He soon gained the trust of the policemen and started assisting them with investigations.”
The source said Khumalo was knowledgeable about South African policing and investigation methods.
“He knew what he was talking about. So much so, that professional policemen believed him.”
Khumalo allegedly began working in the province by visiting stations in northern KZN.
“He worked from police stations in Richards Bay, Mtunzini, Empangeni and Esikhawini. He seemed to have good informers when it came to car theft and hijacking syndicates operating in KZN,” the source said, adding that Khumalo legitimately helped police recover 26 stolen and hijacked cars in Richards Bay and 19 in Mtunzini.
“The engine numbers of these stolen cars were checked and they showed on the system as stolen or hijacked. This just gained him more trust and recognition.”
Responding to claims that Khumalo loved fast police cars and had been assigned an official vehicle, Polela said it was being investigated.
“We know that he has a warrant of arrest for murder; we will establish the rest through the current investigation.”
A senior Hawks policeman said they had not heard of, or seen, Khumalo. “He was definitely not under the Hawks wing. This guy is probably working with false identity documents. None of the top brass has ever heard of him.”
Khumalo had allegedly bragged to policemen, claiming he was close to former acting police commissioner, Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi, Phiyega, the current police commissioner, as well as other high ranking officers.
Polela said anyone with information about Khumalo’s whereabouts should contact Colonel Ernest Verster at 082 779 7274.