Durban – Two suspended eThekwini metro councillors and the gunman they hired were convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Durban High Court on Friday.
Councillors Mduduzi Ngcobo, 52, and Velile Lutsheko, 57, and the 31-year old gunman they hired to kill housing activist Thulisile Maureen Ndlovu were found guilty by Judge Johan Ploos van Amstel of shooting her dead in her Pinetown home in September 2014.
The shooter Mlungisi Ndlovu was also convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 12 years in jail for shooting Siphesihle Madlala, who was the tutor of Thulisile Ndlovu.
The court was told that Ndlovu was paid R15 000 to assassinate Thulisile Ndlovu, a resident of KwaNdengezi in Pinetown, whereas a member of Abahlali baseMjondolo she had agitated against people from outside the area being given government housing.
The gunman shot the Abahlali activist several times in the bedroom of her home next to her one-year-old daughter.
Outside the Durban High Court police kept Abahlali members apart from ANC supporters of the two councillors as they taunted each other across the police tape.
When the verdict and sentences were announced Abahlali members danced and ran into Margaret Mncadi Avenue (formerly Victoria Embankment) temporarily disrupting traffic.
The court heard that a fourth person Sithembiso Ndlovu, who had done work for Ngcobo, had led the gunman to Thulisile Ndlovu
“Accused number two [Ngcobo] said Ndlovu’s job would be to show accused number one [Mlungisi Ndlovu] who the deceased [Thulisile Ndlovu] was as he did not want the wrong person to be shot,” said Van Amstel, recounting the testimony of the trial.
Sithembiso Ndlovu was arrested in November 2014 after he approached KwaZulu-Natal community safety and liaison MEC Willies Mchunu when he realised that more people might be killed.
It was then that Mduduzi Ngcobo revealed the plot by the two councillors that had led to Thulisile Ndlovu’s killing.
He was promised a municipal job and a house by Ngcobo for his role in Thulisile Ndlovu’s killing while Mlungisi was paid R15,000.
Van Amstel said that cellphone records placing the three accused together corroborated the evidence given by Sithembiso Ndlovu, whom he found to be a reliable and honest witness.
Ngcobo, who was the ANC branch chairman in KwaNdengezi, and Lutsheko, who was the secretary of the same branch, were upset with Thulisile Ndlovu because she had been leading the Abahlali movement to evict people from houses that had been given to them by the two councillors.
“It seems plain she was a thorn in the side of the accused,” said Van Amstel.
He acquitted the two councillors of attempted murder regarding the shooting of the tutor Madlala.
“There was no evidence on count two [the attempted murder charge] against accused numbers two and three [Ngcobo and Lutsheko] having regard to the evidence for the state that their instruction was for the deceased to be killed, but that accused number one [Mlungisi Ndlovu] had to be careful not to shoot the wrong person. The shooting of Madlala was not part of the bargain and accused number one is solely responsible for that,” said Van Amstel.
The court also heard that the two councillors had been suspended on full pay since May 2015.
After sentencing the men the judge refused an application by their advocate Jay Naidoo for leave to appeal against the sentence or the conviction. He said he was not of the opinion that another judge would reach a different conclusion.
Thulisile Ndlovu’s mother Gertrude Ndlovu said after judgement had been passed: “I am very happy. I was very nervous but now I am very happy. Now I can sleep peacefully.”