School funds paid for hitmen - claim

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Durban - Funds from a South Coast school’s governing body were allegedly used to hire two hit men to kill a KwaZulu-Natal school principal earlier this year.

The man who allegedly organised the hit is 31-year-old Sandile Mzizi, who had for several months been on the run from a police detective investigating a separate murder in the Hibberdene area.

Mzizi was arrested in Durban last Tuesday.

A Roving Reporters investigation into the whereabouts of Mzizi over the past two weeks revealed the man has powerful connections in the education department and police services, often also working as a bodyguard.

He also served as chairman of the governing body of Khathi High School near Hibberdene.

Following his arrest, Mzizi was charged for the murder of the principal of Nyonemhlophe High School in Mid-Illovo, Nathi Cyril Zondi.

Zondi was gunned down by two men outside his home in Umlazi in May this year.

A source close to the Zondi murder investigation said Mzizi was being accused of being the mastermind behind Zondi’s murder, and had allegedly used funds from a school governing body to pay two hit men to kill Zondi.

South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) provincial secretary, Mbuyiseni Mathonsi, said Zondi had been involved in exposing corruption in senior ranks of the KZN Education Department and various school governing bodies. He said it was still unclear who was behind the murder.

“This murder case is just the beginning of a much bigger picture that needs to be exposed,” said Mathonsi.

After appearing with three co-accused, Ndodile Shezi, Andile Zulu and Mbuso Makhoba, in the Umlazi Magistrate’s Court, Mzizi was whisked away in leg irons to Umzinto Prison on the South Coast to stand trial in the Ramsgate High Court for an earlier, execution-style killing.

His co-accused in this earlier case – the murder of Mkhulisi ‘Pat’ Mvubu, 47, in April 2011 – is Port Shepstone Organised Crime Unit Warrant Officer, Basil Crouse.

The indictment in this case states that Mzizi provided a 9mm gun to Crouse to plant on Mvubu after he had been shot in the head.

Mvubu, and other occupants in the car he was travelling in, were all unarmed, the indictment reads.

Crouse allegedly opened fire without warning. The driver, identified only as “Jama” (now in a witness protection programme) was shot in both legs as he fled across the road. Mvubu alighted from the front passenger side, carrying a guitar.

“He too crossed the road and fled past Jama,” the indictment reads.

“Crouse continued to shoot. Mvubu sustained multiple gunshot wounds in the back and right shoulder. Mvubu kept on running despite his injuries until he fell next to a fence of a private residence. Crouse went to where he was lying, placed his boot on Mvubu’s shoulder, and shot him through the head,” the indictment alleges.

Crouse then loaded a cartridge into the 9mm that Mzizi had provided, and placed it next to Mvubu to “create the impression that Mvubu had been armed when he was shot”, it was alleged.

The indictment alleges that Mzizi had assisted police in planning this murder after receiving information that Mvubu had attempted to kill a youth leader, Nti Chiliza, the previous evening.

In his successful bail application in July 2012, Mzizi told magistrate Michael van Aardt that he worked for a security company, owned a taxi and also served as the chairman of the Khathi High School in Hibberdene.

“I sign the cheques for the school. When I was arrested, we were busy with applications for a science lab. We were discussing those matters with the KwaZulu-Natal legislator,” Mzizi said.

Mzizi said various school projects would suffer if he were kept in custody.

“There would be a problem because other members of the community are uneducated. The projects would collapse.” Mzizi said.

Mzizi admitted he had voluntarily provided the police with the firearm which had been planted on Mvubu after he had been killed, but said he had nothing to do with the shooting. He said he never reported what he had witnessed until he was arrested more than a year later.

Investigating Officer, Detective Warrant Officer Herman Pienaar, told the court that he had spent a year tracing Mzizi, and that the accused had not co-operated until confronted with the evidence.

“After I produced cellphone records with co-ordinates, he then admitted he was at the (murder) scene, but had only driven past in his taxi,” Pienaar said.

“When I showed him the co-ordinates which proved that he was with the police officers in their vehicle, he then admitted to this. I then asked him about the firearm. He denied knowing anything about the firearm. After I told him I found a fingerprint on the firearm, he then admitted that he had handled the firearm.

“Mr Mzizi then asked to meet his lawyer before making any statement. He came back an hour later, promising to see me the next day. Then he disappeared,” Pienaar told the court.

Pienaar said that, given the obstacles he faced in tracing and finally arresting Mzizi, the accused was a serious flight risk. Furthermore, Mzizi had threatened a witness being held in State protection and was himself in grave danger given the confession he had made.

Van Aardt dismissed these concerns in granting Mzizi R5 000 bail.

“The nature of this offence and the circumstances are really strange and exceptional. I don’t know if all the facts I heard today are in fact factual,” Van Aardt said.

He said Mzizi had also stated that he would stand trial, co-operate with police and not interfere with witnesses.

“And as far his own safety is concerned, whoever wanted to do him any harm could have done so a long time ago,” Van Aardt said.

Turning to Mzizi, Van Aardt added: “All I want to say is that if you do pay bail and you are released, I would sleep with one eye open.”

Mzizi was ordered to report to Cato Manor police station, near where he lives in Durban, every Monday and Friday between 6am and 6pm.

But Mzizi did not adhere to these bail conditions, and when his trial was supposed to commence in July this year, he had absconded, prompting Pienaar to seek a new warrant for his arrest.

After his arrest last week Mzizi appeared in the Ramsgate High Court on Monday for the continuation of the Pat Mvumbu murder trial, alongside Crouse.

The case resumes on May 26.

* This story forms part of an investigative journalism training programme supported by the Taco Kuiper Trust, the Open Society Foundation of South Africa, and Durban University of Technology. The students covering Mzizi’s trial under the mentorship of veteran journalists, Fred Kockott and Craig Bishop, are Sibusisiwe Buthelezi, Bekhekile Kuphe, Zizipho Mandonda and Deshnee Naidoo.

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