One of the most talked about cases to rock 2011 involved Sheryl Cwele, the now former wife of State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele, who was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment by Judge Piet Koen, of the Pietermaritzburg High Court, on May 6.
Cwele, 50, the former director of health services at the Hibiscus Coast Municipality, and her Nigerian co-accused, Frank Nabolisa, were both found guilty of recruiting two South Coast women, Tessa Beetge and beauty therapist, Charmaine Moss, as drug mules. Moss declined the offer, but Beetge is serving a seven-year jail sentence in a Sao Paulo prison. She was arrested after 10kg of cocaine was found in her luggage in 2008.
Cwele has since appealed her conviction and is out on bail of R100 000, while Nabolisa is still in custody. The appeal is likely to be heard in the Pietermaritzburg High Court next year.
After her conviction, Cwele was fired from her post at the municipality. Cwele and her husband were divorced in September, four months after she was found guilty.
The net drew tighter around fraud and corruption accused, billionaire businessman Gaston Savoi and his “amigos” in September this year, after two Cape Town businessmen pleaded guilty to their role in one of the biggest scams to ever hit the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health.
Ansano Romani, 64, and Donald Keith Miller, 58, both pleaded guilty to one count of fraud in relation to a R1 million “donation” paid by Uruguayan national, Savoi, to the ANC in 2007 in exchange for a multi-million-rand government tender. Normal tender processes were allegedly bypassed to award a tender to Savoi’s company, Intaka, to supply water purification plants to hospitals and clinics in KwaZulu-Natal.
Savoi’s co-accused includes MEC Mike Mabuyakhulu (then ANC provincial treasurer) and Speaker of the legislature, Peggy Nkonyeni (then Health MEC). Mabuyakhulu is now a member of the ANC provincial executive and Nkonyeni is the provincial treasurer. Romani and Miller agreed to testify for the State in the prosecution against Savoi and his co-accused, as well as hand over all documents in their possession pertaining to the fraudulent tender.
All the accused are out on bail and will appear in court again on January 20 for a high court date to be set.
Savoi was also successful in having his bail conditions amended, allowing him to travel overseas over the festive season, to countries that SA does not have extradition agreements with.
Savoi, who is out on bail of R200 000, will make business-related trips to Brazil and France over December and January.
The sound of stun grenades and rubber bullets being fired outside the Pietermaritzburg City Hall marred the swearing-in of Msunduzi’s new mayor, Chris Ndlela, in June this year. Angry protesters, demonstrating against Ndlela’s appointment as mayor, threw stones at police and then turned on each other in violent clashes, forcing police to fire stun grenades and rubber bullets in the air to disperse the crowd of about 500 people.
The protesters demanded that Alpha Shelembe, who was sworn in as deputy mayor, be appointed mayor. Shelembe is the previous Speaker of the municipality under the mayorship of Zanele Hlatshwayo, whose entire cabinet was recalled last year after the collapse of the Msunduzi Municipality.
The embattled municipality was then put under administration after the intervention of KZN MEC for Local Government and Traditional Affairs, Nomusa Dube, and was placed under the mayorship of Mike Tarr, who handed over the helm to Ndlela.
Ndlela, the KZN chairman of Cosatu and a former educator and principal of EPS Secondary in Pietermaritzburg, accepted his nomination as mayor and vowed to get the city of Pietermaritzburg back to its former glory.
It was a mixed year for former Deputy Mayor of Msunduzi Alpha Shelembe, who had charges of arson withdrawn against him, but still has charges of fraud and corruption hanging over his head.
Shelembe hogged the headlines when he was charged in connection with a fire that gutted the ANC regional offices in Pietermaritzburg in June.
He tendered his resignation as deputy mayor and ANC regional treasurer in the face of mounting political pressure after his arrest.
In June, a man employed as an ANC driver in Pietermaritzburg admitted to setting fire to the party’s city offices, and claimed he had acted on Shelembe’s orders.
The Moses Mabhida regional offices in Jabu Ndlovu Street were torched, causing damage estimated at R750 000. Themba Mbona, 43, was arrested after handing himself over to the police.
Mbona, employed as a driver for ANC regional secretary Super Zuma, pleaded guilty to arson.
He was sentenced to eight years in jail, three of which were suspended for five years on condition that he was not convicted of arson during the period of suspension.
Charges were withdrawn against Shelembe after Mbona retracted his statement.
However, the former Msunduzi official is still facing charges of corruption, fraud and money-laundering relating to his previous appointment at the uMgungundlovu district municipality.
The biggest shock of the year came when Hilton Shaw, the man who was found guilty of the murder of his wife, Susan, on their remote estate at Fort Nottingham on June 3, 2007, was acquitted of the murder after an appeal before a full bench of the Pietermaritzburg High Court.
The unanimous judgment was handed down by judges Dhaya Pillay, Graham Lopes and Acting Judge President Chiman Patel, who concluded that the most probable explanation was that Susan committed suicide.
Shaw was granted leave to appeal against his conviction after he had petitioned the president of the Supreme Court of Appeal in November 2009.
He appealed against his murder conviction and not against his 12-year jail sentence.
The bench concluded that Susan had a history of suicide attempts and suffered from depression, a condition that was serious enough for her to have received medication and professional treatment.
“The trial court found that shooting herself once in the shoulder did not signal a suicidal intention. Having regard to her two previous suicide attempts, it is an open question as to whether she really intended to end her life. As with her two previous attempts, when Shaw rescued her, she knew that he would return soon to save her. In the circumstances, the suicide theory is a real possibility.”
The judges found that although shooting herself in the right shoulder would have been awkward, it was not impossible.
The family of an Inanda teenager, whose severed head was found in a freezer, will have to wait until March for the man accused of his murder to go on trial in the Pietermaritzburg High Court.
Roger Thusi will stand trial for the murder of Loyiso Jokweni, whose gruesome death rocked the Midlands community in January.
Thusi was initially charged in connection with Jokweni’s murder, along with traditional healer Mduduzi Manqele. Jokweni’s severed head was found in a freezer in a house in the France township, just outside the capital, on January 17.
The teen’s head was found in a plastic dish, along with a frozen snake and other unidentified items at the home of Thusi’s girlfriend.
He had been visiting his sister when he disappeared, and was reported missing on December 28.
Both Manqele and Thusi were charged with murder and kidnapping. However the State was forced to provisionally withdraw charges against Manqele because of insufficient evidence against him.
Manqele’s arrest led to rioting in Mafakathini. Residents vandalised and looted his properties and set his home and one of his vehicles alight.
They are alleged to have stolen meat, liquor and other items from his home, as well as a television set, fridges and furniture. Police who tried to restore order to the area were pelted with stones.
A “dungeon” filled with animal remains and skeletons was found in Manqele’s home where he is alleged to have practised as a witchdoctor.
In what many described as a “classic tragedy”, Kalisha Rajcoomar, a young mother of a two-year old daughter, was sentenced to 18 years behind bars in May for the murder of the father of her child.
Rajcoomar, 25, and her husband, Amith Sewkarran, 28, last year pleaded guilty to the murder of Rajcoomar’s former lover, Sandesh Pooran, 26.
Pooran was lured to the Gables Inn near the Golden Horse Casino in Scottsville where he was strangled. His body was then dumped in a secluded area near Wartburg where it was set alight. Pooran’s charred remains were discovered a few days later.
Sewkarran, who strangled Pooran, was sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment, after Judge Piet Koen concluded that he too was a “victim of circumstance” after being manipulated by Rajcoomar.
Local policeman Morne Croeser spent most of this year on the opposite side of the law in the accused’s dock after being charged with the premeditated murder of his wife Erika on August 28 last year.
The State has alleged that Croeser, 34, a police constable who was attached to the Mountain Rise dog unit, staged a robbery at their home at the Msinsi Reserve at Albert Falls Dam and stabbed his wife 14 times in the face and neck. He allegedly stabbed himself to mislead the police.
Croeser has denied killing his wife, claiming that he and 33-year-old Erika had been attacked at their home. Croeser said the two had been returning home at 1.30am when they were confronted by their attacker. The knife was still embedded in Croeser’s abdomen when the police and paramedics arrived at the scene.
Despite numerous affairs and an on-going relationship with local schoolteacher Ruth Sinclair, Croeser said he loved his wife and was “very happy” with her.
Judgment will be delivered on January 16.
The controversial blue-light saga continued to be debated in court this year.
VIP Protection Unit member Hlanganani Nxumalo is charged with six counts of attempted murder, and the unlawful discharge of a firearm after an incident that sparked public outrage in November 2008.
It is alleged that Nxumalo and co-accused VIP Protection Unit member Caiphus Ndlela, who is charged with reckless and negligent driving, were the cause of an accident.
The State alleges that Nxumalo fired two shots at a vehicle on the N3 near Ashburton. Ndlela was the driver of the state-owned vehicle, a VW Golf GTI. The two had been rushing to pick up MEC, Meshack Radebe, from Hillcrest to inspect storm damage at Molweni.
Anuvasen Moodley, driving a Mazda, had been on his way to the beach in Durban with his wife and four friends. He was allegedly shot at and veered into oncoming traffic, colliding with a bakkie. Two of Moodley’s five passengers were seriously injured.
Moodley and his passengers have issued summons indicating their intention to sue the State in a civil proceeding that is likely to be heard early next year.
Pietermaritzburg was shaken by the deaths of 15 commuters in September.
Khululeka Gwala, a taxi driver, is charged with 15 counts of murder after an accident in Allandale.
It is alleged that Gwala tried to overtake vehicles at excessive speed in peak-hour traffic and then lost control of his vehicle and collided with an oncoming truck.
The vehicles collided and veered off the road and went down an embankment. The truck landed on top of the taxi. The dead, who were all in the taxi, had to be extricated in a lengthy recovery operation.
Gwala was released on bail of R10 000 amid a huge protest from angry community members.
The case was adjourned to February.
Beleaguered ANCYL leader Julius Malema made a trip to Pietermaritzburg in November to the offices of the SA Minority Rights Equality Movement (Samrem).
Malema met the organisation to discuss charges of crimen injuria laid against him on November 4, after he referred to Indians as amakula during a speech in Gauteng.
Samrem convener, Ashin Singh confirmed that members of Samrem who met Malema had decided to provisionally withdraw the charge against him.
Malema said he had apologised for his remarks and had meant no offence. He gave an assurance that he would not use the word again to refer to South Africans of Indian origin.