A “blue light” police VIP protection unit member who fired shots on the N3 freeway in an incident resulting in an accident, said his life had been in danger.
Hlanganani Nxumalo, charged with six counts of attempted murder, and the unlawful discharge of a firearm after an incident that sparked public outrage in November 2008, admitted to “pressuring” vehicles out of the way if he was running late.
Nxumalo and co-accused, VIP protection unit member Caiphus Ndlela, who is charged with reckless and negligent driving, appeared before Pietermaritzburg magistrate, Chris van Vuuren, yesterday. The State had closed its case in February this year.
The State alleges that Nxumalo fired two shots at a vehicle on the N3 near Ashburton. Ndlela was the driver of the state-owned vehicle, a VW Golf GTI.
The two had been rushing to pick up MEC, Meshack Radebe, from Hillcrest to inspect storm damage at Molweni.
Anuvasen Moodley, driving a Mazda, had been on his way to the beach in Durban with his wife and four friends. He was allegedly shot at and veered into oncoming traffic, colliding with a bakkie.
Two of Moodley’s five passengers were seriously injured.
Both Nxumalo and Ndlela have pleaded not guilty.
Testifying in his defence on Monday, Nxumalo said that at the time of the incident he had been a member of the VIP protection services for four years.
His duties required that he protect and transport the person he was assigned to, as well as the person’s belongings, and to assess any perceived threats to the person’s life.
“I also took a vow to be the one who will take a bullet for the person I am protecting,” Nxumalo said.
On November 15, 2008, he and Ndlela were scheduled to pick up Radebe from his home in Hillcrest at 9am. However, on the morning Radebe called him just before 8am.
“The MEC told me that he needed to be picked up at 8.30am. We left Pietermaritzburg immediately. Ndlela was the driver and I was his crew for that day,” Nxumalo said.
He said that it was his responsibility to check the surroundings and to act if something happened.
On this occasion they were forced to exceed the speed limit to avoid being late, he said.
He explained that they had engaged the official vehicle’s blue lights on the dashboard, visible through the windscreen, and the blue strobe lights on the headlights to alert drivers on the N3 that they were in a hurry.
“We were driving at a high speed between 120 and 140km/h.”
Before the Ashburton off-ramp, Nxumalo said they encountered a black Mazda, (the vehicle driven by Moodley), which he said cut in front of them from the slow lane into the fast lane, without indicating.
Nxumalo said that because of the speed they were travelling at, Ndlela was forced to brake to avoid a collision.
“At times, the Mazda would brake and we were again forced to apply brakes.
Ndlela flashed lights at the car to warn him to move out of the way, but the driver flipped us the middle finger,” Nxumalo said, adding that he was used to this rude gesture in his line of work.
Nxumalo said that when the Mazda eventually moved out of the fast lane, it continuously swerved towards them in a “violent” fashion.
“I believed that the driver was attempting to force us off the road or cause an accident. I believed our lives to be in danger,” he said.
Nxumalo said that when the freeway opened up into three lanes, he made the decision to take out his firearm and fire a warning shot to scare the driver.
“I held my firearm out my window at a 45 degree angle and fired two warning shots. The driver of the Mazda swerved towards our vehicle and we drove forward.
“I saw the Mazda drive behind us and it drove into other vehicles. We carried on driving and I called 10111 to report the incident,” Nxumalo said.
Nxumalo denied that he had pointed the firearm at the Mazda. “I handled the situation in a justifiable manner, so no one would get hurt and no one would be injured.
“At no stage did I intend to kill or harm anyone. I believed the driver of the Mazda was trying to kill us,” Nxumalo said.
Under cross-examination, Nxumalo denied that his warning shots resulted in Moodley losing control and driving into oncoming traffic.
Nxumalo said that he did not know why Moodley drove into oncoming traffic.
“From the way he was driving, he seemed like a person with ‘hard balls’, someone who is not easily frightened. I don’t know why he lost control of his car,” Nxumalo said.
Nxumalo said that it was within his legal rights, as a member of the protection services, to exceed the speed limit.
He admitted they sometimes “pressured” vehicles to move out of the way if they were late.