NFP men freed after testimony retracted

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Durban - Two NFP officials who were on trial for the 2012 murder of the party’s Nqutu constituency chairman have been acquitted after a key State witness changed his testimony.

Mkhonzeni Ntuli, 37, who was a representative of the NFP in Msinga at the time, and Felamandla Mkhize, 56, who was deputy mayor of Umzinyathi District Municipality, were acquitted in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Tuesday.

The State had alleged that before the murder of Thulebona Nhlebela, a dispute had arisen within the party regarding positions in the NFP hierarchy in Umzinyathi district.

It was alleged the accused decided to resolve the conflict by killing Nhlebela and procured the services of Khawulani Mkhize and two others to carry out their plan.

Nhlebela was shot on June 6, 2012 after stopping his bakkie at the gates of Hazeldene Farm. He died of multiple bullet wounds.

Khawulani Mkhize, who pleaded guilty in September that year and is serving an 18-year jail sentence for his role in the murder, testified for the State in the trial.

He initially said he had not personally taken part in the shooting but had transported the killers to and from the murder scene on instruction from Felamandla Mkhize.

However, he changed his tune before Judge Trevor Gorven this week and said he had not taken part in any plot to kill Nhlebela and had not heard or seen anything regarding any murder.

Mkhize refused to implicate Felamandla Mkhize or Ntuli in the murder. Instead, he told the court that he did not understand why he was serving an 18-year sentence.

He claimed that the police and his legal representative had lied to him and had duped him into pleading guilty.

After his surprise testimony, defence advocate Themba Mjoli made an application for a discharge, on the basis that there was no evidence against his clients. The State did not oppose the application.

Both Felamandla Mkhize and Ntuli were acquitted.

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