Vehicle smuggler sentenced to 53 years’ imprisonment for KZN-Mozambique operation

The Mtubatuba Magistrate’s Court sentenced 37-year-old Sipho “Smirnoff” Mhlanga to 53 years’ imprisonment. Picture: SAPS

The Mtubatuba Magistrate’s Court sentenced 37-year-old Sipho “Smirnoff” Mhlanga to 53 years’ imprisonment. Picture: SAPS

Published Jun 23, 2024


Durban — The national task team deployed to the northern parts of KwaZulu-Natal to clamp down on cross-border crime has added another feather to its cap, having secured the conviction of a wanted cross-border vehicle hijacker and smuggler.

National police spokesperson Brigadier Athlenda Mathe said this week that the Mtubatuba Magistrate’s Court sentenced Sipho “Smirnoff” Mhlanga, 37, to 53 years’ imprisonment.

She said Mhlanga was arrested in August 2023 and was linked to a syndicate that had been smuggling hijacked and stolen vehicles from South Africa to Mozambique through various borders in KZN.

“Mhlanga had been in custody since his arrest and was found guilty on June 19 for 10 counts of charges including murder, aggravated robbery and kidnapping,” Mathe said.

She said that in June 2023, Mhlanga’s accomplice, Vusi Amos Malwane, was sentenced to 55 years’ imprisonment by the Ingwavuma Magistrate’s Court.

Malwane, 44, was handed a six-year imprisonment term for kidnapping; 30 years for robbery with aggravating circumstances (hijacking); and 15 years for possession of unlicensed firearms and ammunition. He escaped from custody in 2014. The court sentenced him to four years’ imprisonment for the escape.

Mathe continued: “To date, the task team which was deployed in February 2023 to Manguzi has arrested 276 suspects, with 107 still in police custody.

“One hundred and fifty vehicles that were either stolen or hijacked have been recovered, with the majority of those recovered being 4x4 vehicles. During this period 93 SUVs and or 4x4 vehicles and 57 sedans were recovered.

“One hundred and thirty-five of these vehicles have been handed over to their lawful owners,” Mathe continued.

“More than 70 illegal and unlicensed firearms were also confiscated, which include 14 rifles.”

Mathe added that there is a joint action plan between the Mozambique police and the SAPS which is aimed at addressing transnational crime in both countries.

The joint action plan aims to ensure a dedicated team from both countries meets regularly to conduct joint cross-border operations to prevent and combat cross-border vehicle smuggling, kidnappings and stock theft.

In August last year, former KZN Transport, Community Safety and Liaison MEC Sipho Hlomuka commended a special task team deployed in the uMkhanyakude District to curb cross-border crime for arresting three suspects linked to the murder of Sipho “Juda” Mthethwa.

Mthethwa was an anti-crime activist who was shot dead in February last year. He was a founding member and chairperson of the Mhlabuyalingana Society Against Crime Organisation and was at the forefront of fighting cross-border crime.

At the time of the arrest, Mathe said three more suspects belonging to a syndicate that had been smuggling stolen vehicles across the border to Mozambique were arrested.

Two of the suspects are also accused of killing Mthethwa, who was shot outside his home.

Mathe said Thokozani Dlamini, 36, Sipho Mhlanga, 36, and Xolani Mkhwanazi, 28, were arrested during a take-down operation in Empangeni. They were found with two unlicensed pistols and several rounds of ammunition.

The trio were linked to at least 52 more cases of car hijackings in northern KZN.

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