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Cape Town - Eight people have been sentenced to a combined 914 years in prison for a string of bank robberies and racketeering in Gauteng and Mpumalanga between 2013 and 2014, the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, better known as the Hawks, said on Friday.

In a statement, Hawks spokesman Hangwani Mulaudzi said the group was arrested in 2014 after the directorate's serious organised crime unit began an investigation.

"The eight suspects were part of a dangerous gun-totting syndicate that terrorised Mpumalanga and Gauteng between 2013 and 2014, robbing 11 banks," Mulaudzi said.

Eleven suspects were initially arrested but three had charges against them withdrawn due to insufficient evidence.

"After a two-year trial, the remaining eight suspects, Sikhumbuzo Sibanda (45), Strike Ndebele (48), Themba Ndlovu (45), Xolani Nxumalo (40), Bafana Ntuli (45),and Nkosana Nkomo (28), Vusi Lucky Dube (42) Mduduzi Makhubu (38), were found guilty on two counts of racketeering in terms of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act (POCA), robberies with aggravating circumstances, attempted murder, possession of unlicensed firearms, and malicious damage to property," said Mulaudzi.

"The first six are Zimbabweans while the last two are South Africans making the organised criminal group a multinational one."

Hawks boss Godfrey Lebeya welcomed the sentences.

"The life sentences for a pattern of racketeering offences are welcomed as they send a clear message," he said.

"The criminals, as declared by court, will not commit another bank robbery. That is also a way of preventing crime. The POCA legislation provides for these heavy sentences and will be vigorously applied."

African News Agency (ANA)