Durban - Taxi boss and ANC leader Elias “Sputla” Mpungose is off the hook again after murder charges against him were withdrawn in the Matubatuba Magistrate’s Court this week.
He was charged with the murder of Ulundi taxi boss, rival Samson Mthethwa, in Mahlabatini in 2012.
Mpungose, 45, accused of planning the hit, was freed because the main witness linking him to the murder has disappeared, resulting in the case’s withdrawal.
A source close to the investigation, who asked not to be named because he is not allowed to speak to the media, said: “This man has no faith in the police or in the justice system… he fears for his life.”
In 2007, Mpungose was sentenced to life imprisonment for the rape of a 14-year-old girl (who was later murdered). In 2011 he was released when the Supreme Court of Appeal overturned the judgment against him.
Celukuphila Mlambo, the girl Mpungose was convicted of raping, never got the chance to testify against him. She was gunned down in her home near Nongoma in northern KwaZulu-Natal, along with her mother, Bulawelani Myaka, and 13-year-old cousin, Sipho Ndawonde a week before she was due to take the stand.
The Vryheid High Court heard during the 2007 trial how an AK-47 was used in the killings, which occurred a week before Mpungose’s trial.
The court was told the Myaka family had turned down Mpungose’s offer of R10 000 or 10 cows to withdraw the rape complaint.
Mpungose was initially charged with three counts of murder in connection with the deaths. But due to a string of witness discrepancies, the murder charges were dropped.
Mpungose was only convicted of rape.
Mpungose was sentenced to life by Judge Nick van der Reyden, amid tight security, including personal bodyguards for the judge and prosecutor, Cyril Selepi SC.
In sentencing Mpungose, the judge said: “He must have felt so safe in his position of authority and power that he gave no second thought to raping this girl. It shows utter disregard and no respect for this young woman. She was nothing more than an object on which he could satisfy his lusts, and once he had, he discarded her like a rag.”
But Mpungose lodged an appeal and the verdict was overturned in 2007. On Monday this week murder charges in respect of Mthethwa were withdrawn.
Mpungose, the man once described as an assassin by IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, said he felt vindicated after the charges were withdrawn.
“I am very happy now because I am a free man. I said from the beginning it was a conspiracy against me; they tried to frame me.
“Samson Mthethwa was my friend. I had no reason to kill him.
“That is a lie. The law is fair. People who testify will be kept safe. That person has no reason to be afraid.
“The reason why that person did not want to testify was because he knew it was a farce and that they were framing me,” Mpungose added.