Durban – A man believed to be a witness in the murder case against Newcastle mayor Dr Ntuthuko Mahlaba was gunned down in Newcastle on Sunday.
The African News Agency (ANA) has learned that a second man, possibly a bystander, was shot and killed in the crossfire on Sunday afternoon outside the intended target’s business premises.
The murdered witness was allegedly a former African National Congress (ANC) treasurer in the eMalahleni region.
The names of both victims are known to ANA.
Police minister Bheki Cele’s spokesperson Reneilwe Serero told ANA on Monday that while she could confirm a murder had taken place, she could not yet confirm that the victim was a witness in the case against the mayor.
“I can’t confirm that for now. The team is working very hard to link [the victim] and verify the details of the deceased. For now, we as the SAPS (South African Police Service) can’t say for sure,” Serero said, committing to provide further details later.
Dr Mahlaba was arrested at the Newcastle municipal offices in March for his alleged role in the 2016 assassination of Wandile Ngobeni, an ANC Youth League (ANCYL) leader in eMalahleni.
Mahlaba, a general practitioner faces charges of murder, attempted murder and conspiracy to commit the acts.
The mayor, who was sworn in on March 1 following the resignation of advocate Makhosini Nkosi in mid-January, has vehemently denied any of the charges and was released on R20 000 bail in April.
Twenty-eight-year-old Ngobeni was shot dead at Ikasi Lounge in Madadeni as he socialised with a group of friends.
Eyewitnesses who spoke to ANA at the time of the incident said two men entered the restaurant and opened fire, killing Ngobeni and wounding ANCYL regional secretary Mafika Mndebele.
Barely two months after Ngobeni was murdered, eMalahleni ward 6 candidate-councillor Thembi Mbongwa, 35, was shot dead at her home in front of her husband and children.
The year 2016 was particularly brutal for political killings in KwaZulu-Natal, prompting premier Willies Mchunu to establish the Moerane Commission of Inquiry tasked with investigating the underlying causes.
Moerane's report found that political killings were mostly at a local level and mainly involved councillors, potential councillors and branch leaders of political organisations. Greed - particularly a desire for access to lucrative tenders - appeared to be the overwhelming motive.
In August 2018, police minister Cele expanded and upgraded the task team investigating political killings in KZN, adding seasoned detectives from KZN as well as the Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape and Western Cape provinces.