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Ex-Apla man gets life in prison for cash van heist

Leila Samodien

ST JAMES Church killer Gcinikhaya Makoma, who was granted amnesty for the 1993 attack, has been sentenced to life and 46 years in prison for his role in a “deadly” cash van heist.

Gcinikhaya Makoma. Credit: Neil Baynes

The sentences are to run concurrently.

The hammer came down on Makoma, 36, in the Western Cape High Court on Thursday, and eight others in the dock with him – Lunga Luke, Thobela Nono, Zamekile Ngqonga, Thando Mafalala, Thobile Pezisa, Andile Ndandani, Zukile Netti and Thembikile Tikipini.

Judge Patrick Gamble lashed out at Makoma and his argument that the St James Church Massacre – for which he was granted amnesty in 1998 – had dogged his life and that it had led him to kill again.

This, said Judge Gamble, was a “perverse argument not worthy of serious consideration”. Makoma’s role in the heist had been driven by “pure greed”.

“Society undoubtedly looks to the courts to protect itself from this offender once and for all,” the judge said, adding that nothing but a life sentence would be appropriate in Makoma’s case.

While his defence contended that Makoma had to be treated as a first offender because his record had been expunged under the “TRC Act”, Judge Gamble, citing case law, said this did not mute the fact that his role in the St James Church Massacre was historically true.

Judge Gamble had asked to read the TRC’s amnesty ruling, but despite his requests, it had never been put before the court. As a result, the court had little before it to appreciate Makoma’s argument that his life had been defined by his “unique” past.

Makoma had made a confession. The nine carried out the violent attack in a Parow cul-de-sac in December, 2007, ambushing the cash van with automatic rifles. Two police officers on patrol happened upon the robbery. After a shoot-out with the policemen, the gang fled, splitting into groups. Makoma hijacked a taxi in a bid to escape – the count that garnered him 10 years more than the others.

The driver of the cash van, Andile Selepe, was killed.

A few others were found hiding in a crèche in Ravensmead.

Judge Gamble said the “onslaught of violent crime” in SA had not abated, but rather increased over time, and “while politicians tell us crime statistics are dropping”, those in the justice system and ordinary people were experiencing otherwise. In this case, the gang had stopped at nothing to execute their “deadly plan”, leaving a “trail of destruction” in their wake.

The attack on the cash van was followed by a high-speed chase through the quiet neighbourhood of Ravensmead, during which the men had “shamelessly imposed themselves on law-abiding citizens”.

Except for getaway driver Ngqonga, Judge Gamble sentenced the men to life imprisonment for the murder of Selepe.

Makoma was handed down the stiffest punishment of all: life for Selepe’s slaying, and an additional 46 years for the string of crimes connected to the heist. The extra 46 years, however, would run concurrently with his life sentence.

Ngqonga was given only 10 years for attempted robbery, while the rest of the men were sentenced to life for murder and an additional 36 years each, also to run concurrently with their life sentences.

There were initially 11 men in the dock for the heist, but one of them, Celani Twazi, was acquitted of all the charges, and another, Mzukisi Malamlela, died during the trial, apparently of malaria.

The nine men seemed indifferent as Judge Gamble sentenced them one by one. As one of the men was being sentenced, Makoma and Ndandani even appeared amused as they shared a joke.

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