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Pietermaritzburg - The wife and daughter of a Durban policeman who was killed because he witnessed a robbery expressed relief yesterday after the killers were sentenced to life imprisonment by a Pietermaritzburg High Court judge.

Two former police reservists, Thabani Mchunu, 27, and Pretty Khuzwayo, 40, were handed 15-year sentences for robbing the joint SAPS/metro police operations centre in Boscombe Terrace on the Durban beachfront of 15 guns in February 2009.

One of the thieves entered the station saying he wanted to open a case. While a constable attended to him, the other pointed a gun at the unarmed officers and demanded more weapons. The robbers were not told where the guns were, but they found them. Three months later, Sergeant Mandla Thusi, who had witnessed the robbery, was killed.

There were two others who were charged with the murder – June Rose Dlamini was sentenced in May 2009 to 20 years in prison and Bongani Innocent Ndlovu was acquitted.

Petros Sithole, 40, a civilian, who was only convicted of robbery, was sentenced along with the reservists to 15 years’ imprisonment.

Thusi’s wife Nelly said yesterday that she and her family were pleased with the investigations carried out by members of the Cato Manor organised crime unit, which culminated in the killers being given the toughest sentence. While it brought some comfort, life for her and her three children would never be the same.

“We are struggling. I am now a hawker,” she said.

In sentencing, Judge Jacqui Hendriques found that the robbery and murder were pre-meditated and planned, that Thusi was a potential witness and that 10 of the 15 firearms had never been recovered.

What distinguished this case from others, said the judge, was that a policeman lost his life in the most cold and calculated manner. Thusi was shot 10 times at his home in Inanda.

While Judge Hendriques accepted that the accused had a chronic disease with some of them being on treatment, she said that there were adequate medical facilities available to them in prison.

She also took into account that the men and woman had been in custody for three years while awaiting trial and were first-time offenders.

“The crimes they are convicted of are serious and prevalent. I must also bear in mind that the deceased (Thusi) left a family behind and can’t just be considered as another statistic,” said the judge.

She also took into account submissions made by State advocate Rea Mina that the aggravating factors included that the police reservists had murdered their own colleague and that the 10 stolen firearms could still be used to commit crimes.