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Durban - The unsolved murder of a Pietermaritzburg gynaecologist seven years ago has been linked to the heavy contingent of bodyguards that her husband, a local district mayor, still has.
Yusuf Bhamjee became mayor of the Umgungundlovu District Municipality two years after his wife, Sabera, was attacked at the Burger Street Hospital Complex.
She was stabbed in her face and neck. A source close to the investigation said leads had been followed and several people detained and questioned over the years. But to date, no solid evidence had been found linking any of them to Sabera’s murder.
While Bhamjee has managed to sidestep reporters’ questions and the public brouhaha over the decision to assign 16 bodyguards to him and his deputy, a source close to the mayor said his wife’s murder had much to do with it.
Bhamjee was living in fear for his own safety, said the source, who has requested anonymity but whose name is known to the Daily News. Bhamjee did not respond to calls or smses.
At the time of the murder, police had suspected that the doctor had known her attacker, or that the suspect had knowledge of the security system code and had a duplicate key, because there was no sign of forced entry.
No one has been arrested and speculation was rife then that the brutal slaying may have been a way of getting to Bhamjee, a respected political activist and Struggle stalwart. This motive has never been proved.
The source said the murder “proved enough of a threat to necessitate more bodyguards” for Bhamjee. “Without saying too much, it must be noted that politics in this country is very complex by its very nature. The mayor is a well-known figure and requires adequate protection.”
Opposition political parties were stunned this week when it was revealed that Bhamjee and his deputy have had 16 guards assigned to them since they were inaugurated, at a cost of nearly R1.3 million a year.
Bhamjee boasts an entourage that is significantly larger than that of even Premier Senzo Mchunu, who has five bodyguards.
Umgungundlovu municipal manager, S’bu Khuzwayo, confirmed that 11 of the bodyguard positions were filled, while five remained vacant.
The bodyguards worked shifts and were not all on duty at the same time, he said.
“The cost of the officers is absorbed by the district municipality,” Khuzwayo said.
But he would not disclose why the mayor required this much protection, saying only that a risk analysis conducted by the police dictated the number of bodyguards assigned to Bhamjee.
Bhamjee, who was voted best mayor at the Inaugural Municipal Excellence Awards last year, found himself in the middle of a storm recently when two of his bodyguards were accused of shooting at a motorist who refused to make way for the mayor’s car that was travelling in convoy on the N3 to Durban.
Police spokesman Colonel Jay Naicker said the VIP guards were not employed by the SAPS.
They were employed directly by the municipality, contracted by a private security detail.
The Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs and the municipality declined to comment on the employment of the guards.
One of the VIP protection officers, Thulasizwe Mbanjwa, has a previous conviction related to the murder of Richmond “warlord”, Sifiso Nkabinde.
Nkabinde was expelled from the ANC in 1997 for allegedly being a spy for the apartheid government.
He was also accused of starting a low-level war that left 120 people dead in the Richmond area.
Nkabinde was killed in January 1999. Mbanjwa served jail time for the incident.
Last week, Mbanjwa appeared in the Pinetown Magistrate’s Court on an attempted murder charge for the recent N3 shooting.
He was granted R5 000 bail.
Mbanjwa allegedly failed to disclose his previous conviction of murder to the magistrate hearing his bail application.
This could result in his bail being revoked. Opposition parties have called on authorities to investigate how Mbanjwa was employed as a VIP protection guard with a criminal record.
“It is completely inappropriate for anybody with a criminal record to be employed by the security industry, especially at government level,” DA MP John Steenhuisen said.
Khuzwayo would not comment on how Mbanjwa was employed.
“I wish to reiterate that the matters raised about the appointment of bodyguards are at the core of the confidential employer-employee relationship which is underpinned by relevant labour legislation,” he said.
“Furthermore, this matter is now the subject of the official SAPS investigation which must be allowed to run its full course, without any undue influence.”
The Daily News established that internal disciplinary measures against Mbanjwa had started after his suspension in the wake of the N3 shooting incident.