The Glebelands Eight at the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Tuesday. Photo: African News Agency (ANA)

PIETERMARITZBURG - The men accused of being involved in an extortion racket that included murder for hire at Umlazi’s Glebelands Hostel all pleaded not guilty to myriad charges on Tuesday.

The trial of the so-called Glebelands Eight was rolled over from Monday.

Two assessors who had to travel from Durban joined Judge Nkosinathi Chili for Tuesday’s proceedings, which led to a considerable delay.

Senior state prosecutor, Advocate Dorian Paver, told the accused to “listen carefully” as he read the charges and preamble into the court record.

Judge Chili urged the accused to be “willing participants” in proceedings and “listen carefully to the evidence” that would be given by over 100 witnesses throughout the trial, which is set down to run until September 30.

According to the state’s indictment, the de-facto leader of the cabal is former Durban Central police detective Bhekukwazi Mdweshu, who has been charged with “managing an enterprise conducted through a pattern of racketeering activities” between August 2014 and March 2016 at the hostel.

Mdweshu and his co-accused used extortion - known as “collections” - when they were living at Glebelands to rake in cash from some of the hostel’s 20,000-plus residents to, among other things, purchase weapons and hire hitmen to settle scores with a rival gang also looking to extort residents.

The accused are, in order of appearance on the indictment, Mdweshu, Khayelihle Mbuthuma who earlier this year was sentenced to life for murder, Vukani Mcobothi, Eugene Wonderboy Hlophe, Ncomekile Ntshangase, Mbuyiselwa Mkhize, Mondli Mthethwa, who is serving a five-year sentence for culpable homicide, and Bongani Mbhele who has just started a 10-year jail sentence for attempted murder.

In total, the accused face 22 separate counts, including nine of murder, seven of attempted murder, and possession of illegal firearms and ammunition. Mdweshu is also facing counts of extortion and racketeering.

Mdweshu and Ntshangase have retained the services of Advocate Martin Krog to argue in their defence. Legal Aids South Africa’s Advocate Dianne Franklin will act for Hlophe, while another legal aid lawyer, attorney Xolani Sindane, will defend the remaining accused.

Paver told the court that he would prove 37-year-old Mdweshu was indeed the leader of the cabal, and that DNA evidence and eyewitness testimony would link the former cop to at least one murder scene.  

The African News Agency (ANA) reported previously that Mdweshu was injured during the aforementioned attack, which took place in August 2014, which resulted in blood being left at the scene. After he made his way to Kingsway Hospital, Mdweshu told medical personnel he had been injured during a hijacking.

However, when applying for sick leave from his police duties, he relied on a note from a traditional healer that said he was suffering from “abdominal cramps, vomiting and righten (sic) leg pains”.

The case resumes on Wednesday, where ballistics reports and crime scene photos will be presented.

African News Agency (ANA)