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A police officer accused of murdering two colleagues has testified at his bail application that he had suffered a “blackout” and had mistaken them for criminals - changing what he originally told police.
Lieutenant Tholumuzi Harold Mokoena told the KwaDukuza Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday that, realising he had made a mistake, he quickly put the firearm down before throwing it into a bush.
Mokoena, 53, faces two counts of murder, related to the killing of Student Constable Thobani Xulu, 26, of Nkandla, and Constable Sibusiso Mthethwa, 31, of Ngwelezane in Empangeni.
They had been travelling in a police mini-bus with Mokoena and a fourth officer, Student Constable Sthe Zungu, early on February 1 when the shooting occurred.
Mokoena, represented by lawyer Andile Dakela, said they had been returning to the KwaDukuza police station after dropping off another student constable at his home in KwaMaphumulo.
He said Mthethwa had been driving the Toyota Quantum and Xulu was in the passenger seat next to him, dozing.
Mokoena said he had been sitting behind the driver while Student Constable Zungu was asleep in the rear.
They decided to stop to rest at the side of the R74 for half an hour, at about 1am.
Mokoena said he jumped out of the vehicle and went to relieve himself.
“When I returned to the vehicle I heard some noises and it appeared as if people were tampering with the steering wheel. I stopped at the door step and drew out a firearm and shot twice towards the front seat.”
“Suddenly, a colleague seated at the back shouted: ‘Mphathi (senior), what are you doing?’ After that I realised I have shot them.
“Amazed, I quickly put the firearm on the seat before throwing it away in a nearby bush. I asked Zungu to call the duty officer,” Mokoena told the court.
Magistrate Shoba Maharaj asked why he never called out to his colleagues inside the vehicle before shooting.
Mokoena, who claimed to be a diabetic, said he thought they had also alighted after him.
“I did not observe, my mind was not functioning well. I did not even make an attempt to check because I thought we were all outside the car. I suffered a blackout,” said Mokoena.
Prosecutor Thulani Dlalisa asked if Mokoena had any previous convictions. Mokoena said no.
Dlalisa then informed the court that Mokoena had in fact been convicted of assault in 2001 and in the 1990s.
A startled Mokoena said he did not think it worth mentioning because they were old cases.
Maharaj questioned Mokoena about what explanation he had given to officers combing the scene for evidence after the incident.
“I told them there was a red car which we stopped, and after its occupants alighted.
“I approached them with an intention to search but they overpowered me and confiscated my firearm and started shooting at the deceased,” said Mokoena.
Thobani’s father, Lieutenant-Colonel Bongani Xulu, also with the SAPS, told the Daily News outside the court of the anguish his family were going through.
“We (family) have been through counselling but we understand we will never have him back in our lives,” he said.
The matter was adjourned and Mokoena will be kept in custody at the Mayville police station until his next court appearance on March 23.