Members of an elite crime-fighting unit, affluent siblings who murdered their parents, a muso who was living the life most of us dream of and a drug-dealing high-profile public servant top the list of some of the most memorable cases in our courtrooms this year, writes Rizwana Sheik Umar.
The sensational, spine-chilling trial of siblings Nicolette and Hardus Lotter and Mathew Naidoo drew to a close inn March. Undoubtedly, one of the most-watched cases in recent years, the trio’s story first gripped readers around the country when they were arrested for the brutal murders of the siblings’ parents, Johan and Riekie Lotter, in their Westville home in July 2008. The trial, which began in the Durban High Court a year before, had all the elements of a Stephen King novel with a dash of fantasy. Tales of tokoloshes, angels, demons, a third son of God, cults and witchcraft, not forgetting the touch of romance added by former lovers Nicolette and Naidoo, had readers begging for more. The trio were convicted and sentenced by Judge Shyam Gyanda. Naidoo, fingered by the siblings as the mastermind, was given two life sentences, running concurrently, Nicolette got an effective 12-year jail term and Hardus 10 years for their parts in the murders. Nicolette stabbed her mother in the neck and chest and Hardus strangled his father with an electrical cord.
The trial of former Blue Bulls rugby player Phindile Joseph Ntshongwana, dubbed the “Axeman”, started at the Durban High Court last month. The State alleges that Ntshongwana went on a bloody spree in Durban in March last year, hacking victims to death. He faces four counts of murder – three of the victims were decapitated – and attempted murder. He also faces a kidnapping and rape charge. The trial continues in the new year.
In May, Durban socialite Sifiso Zulu was sentenced to five years in jail, two suspended, for culpable homicide, reckless or negligent driving, failing to stop at a red traffic light and failing to stop after an accident in 2008. He denied responsibility throughout his trial, but this month, at a Department of Correctional Services KZN Victim-Offender Dialogue in Richards Bay, he admitted responsibility, reported the Daily News’s sister publication, The Independent on Saturday.
In March 2008, Zulu drove his BMW X5 through a red traffic light, hitting a bakkie carrying Soul Harbour Ministries’ congregants, killing two of them.
Convicted high-profile drug dealer Sheryl Cwele handed herself over to authorities at the Pietermaritzburg High Court in October to serve a 20-year prison sentence.
Cwele, 51, and her accomplice, Frank Nabolisa, were convicted last year by Pietermaritzburg High Court Judge Piet Koen. He found they had recruited two women, Tessa Beetge and Charmaine Moss, to smuggle cocaine into South Africa. In October, the former wife of State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele and Nabolisa lost their application at the Supreme Court of Appeal and had their sentences increased by eight years. She is serving her sentence in Westville Prison.
Three men linked to the murder of Swedish-born newlywed Anni Dewani are behind bars.
Last month, the Western Cape High Court sentenced Xolile Mngeni to life in jail.
Judge Robert Henney found that Mngeni, shuttle taxi driver Zola Tongo and Mziwamadoda Qwabe acted as a group and in common purpose on the evening of the murder.
Mngeni was also convicted of robbery with aggravating circumstances and the illegal possession of a firearm and ammunition.
Mngeni is being held in a single cell at Pollsmoor Prison after having surgery to remove a malignant brain tumour.
Tongo and Qwabe had entered into plea bargains with the State and were sentenced to 18 and 25 years behind bars respectively.
Anni’s husband, Shrien Dewani, is alleged to have orchestrated the hit while the couple were on honeymoon in Cape Town in November 2010.
Dewani’s extradition hearing has been set for July. He is being treated at a UK psychiatric hospital for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
On June 29, 24 members of a KwaZulu-Natal gang were sentenced to life imprisonment for their roles in two brazen marathon cash-in-transit heists on the North Coast in October 2006.
The 24 men, part of the gang dubbed the “KZN 26”, were found guilty in March on various charges, including murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, robbery with aggravating circumstances and theft.
Co-accused Lebohang Mothepu died during the trial, and Bhekinkosi Kunene was released after Judge Jan Combrink found that his role was limited to that of transporting four of the men in his taxi after the crimes were committed.
The accused, who had spent nearly six years in custody, are serving their sentences at Kokstad’s super-maximum security prison. The case included the analysis of nearly 72 000 cellphone calls.
Kwaito star Molemo “Jub Jub” Maarohane and his co-accused, Themba Tshabalala, were sentenced this month after a lengthy trial to 25 years in prison for the murder of four youngsters in a drag racing stint while under the influence of alcohol and contraband. Prince Mohube, Mlungisi Cwayi, Andile Mthombeni and Phomello Masemola were killed when Maarohanye and Tshabalala lost control of their MINI Coopers and crashed into a group of children walking home from school, in Soweto, on March 8, 2010.
The pair will take their sentences on appeal in February.
Another violent crime that captivated readers around the country this year was that linked to Johan Kotze, dubbed the Modimolle Monster.
Kotze, 50, is accused of orchestrating the gang-rape and torture of his ex-wife, Ina Bonnette, and the killing of her 20-year-old son, Conrad, early this year.
Andries Sithole, 42, Pieta Mampuru Mohlane, 33, and Sello Frans Mphaka, 29 – whom Kotze allegedly held at gunpoint while they raped Bonnette, are also on trial. She was also tortured.
Kotze pleaded not guilty to seven charges, including murder, rape, kidnapping and attempted murder.
His co-accused claim Kotze forced them to take part in the attack.
In chilling evidence at the Pretoria High Court, Bonnette testified how Kotze had tortured her with various objects, before he instructed the three co-accused to rape her.
She testified how she was made to listen to her son pleading for his life before Kotze allegedly shot him in the head and heart.
The trial was postponed to February.
In September, Johannes Jacobus Steyn, known as the Sunday rapist, was sentenced to five life terms, and an additional 170 years when he was convicted of all but four of the 37 charges brought against him, including murder, culpable homicide, rape, sexual assault, kidnapping and attempted kidnapping.
Steyn’s victims – girls aged between 11 and 18 – were abducted between 2008 and 2011. One of his victims, Louise de Waal, 16, was abducted in October last year while on her way to school in Roodepoort. Her burnt body was found on a Magaliesberg farm later that day.
Steyn was found guilty of abducting and murdering her, but not guilty of raping her.
Judge Sita Kolbe also found him guilty of abducting Lazanne Farmer, 14, in Pretoria in September 2010. She died after jumping out of the bakkie in a bid to escape.
Steyn’s modus operandi was to molest or rape girls on Sundays when he had told his wife he would be performing community service at a Krugersdorp Hospital, after his conviction in 2007 for molesting children.
Cato Manor Organised Crime Unit
One of the cases that rocked KZN this year was the hauling of members of the disbanded Cato Manor Organised Crime Unit to court on 116 charges including murder and racketeering and defeating the ends of justice relating to alleged “death squad” activities.
uMhlanga businessman Thoshan Panday, under investigation for a R60 million police tender fraud, is on trial with co-accused Colonel Navin Madhoe, for allegedly trying to bribe suspended Hawks head General Johan Booysen to quash investigations into a R60m police accommodation tender scam during the 2010 World Cup.
It is alleged Panday tried to bribe Booysen by giving him a disc containing alleged “incriminating” pictures of members of the unit in exchange for backdating a document.
The unit made headlines after the “incriminating pictures” of the Cato Manor unit were leaked to the press, after which the unit was shut down and its members were accused of operating as a death squad.
Panday is suing the police for millions of rand he claims he is contractually owed.
The probe of the unit was first exposed by Panday when he made an application in the Durban High Court accusing the police of harassing him and casting aspersions on his character.
The case against the members of the unit was transferred to the Durban High Court.