Durban – Empangeni detective Duncan Boardman is the man responsible for laying the groundwork that secured a sentence of just short of 300 years for the notorious KwaNdaya serial rapist, who tormented women in a rural area of KwaZulu-Natal for over three years.
A member of the Empangeni Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences (FCS) unit, Boardman ensured that meticulous, by-the-book police work could be relied on by prosecutors to incarcerate Mhlonipheni Mjadu, responsible for numerous rapes in the KwaNdaya area of Empangeni between 2013 and 2016.
Mjadu made national headlines in June when he was sentenced to seven life terms for rape, 12 years for attempted rape, 75 years for five counts of robbery and 30 years for six counts of housebreaking.
“The perpetrator would break into homes in the early hours of the morning wielding a firearm," Boardman told African News Agency (ANA).
“He would threaten the occupants in the house by shining a cellular phone torch on the firearm, showing them that it was real. With his identity well concealed, he would then rape the victims and flee under the cover of darkness.”
Boardman was on standby in 2015 when he first came into contact with Mjadu’s brutality.
The seasoned officer was called to a rape scene in KwaNdaya, where he learnt that the 24-year-old victim had been asleep with her boyfriend when they were woken by Mjadu, who was brandishing a firearm.
“Mjadu took her with him outside. Paralysed with fear, the boyfriend could not do anything to protect his girlfriend and stayed behind. The suspect took the victim to a house that was still under construction where he raped her,” said Boardman.
The traumatised woman could not offer much to help describe Mjadu, but Boardman’s instincts told him the crime was “very well planned” and therefore probably not a random act. Working on his hunch, Boardman received permission from his commander to “hang onto” the case.
At first, the investigation was fruitless as leads were scarce. But a month later, another rape was reported and found to have a similar modus operandi, confirming Boardman’s hunch that the first rape was not an isolated crime.
The detective was tasked with investigating both cases, and, as if on cue, rapes started being reported “almost on a monthly basis”. But obtaining an accurate description of the perpetrator was still almost impossible.
“All the victims could describe was the fact that he was carrying a black firearm...or a silver firearm,” said Boardman.
There was also a three month period where no rapes were reported.
What Boardman did piece together was that all of the victims lived close to a tavern in the area. It was highly likely that Mjadu used the drinking hole to scout for possible victims, he said. The information helped him identify a possible suspect.
In January 2016, in an unrelated incident, a police officer overpowered and arrested a man in Esikhaleni township – about 20 kilometres outside Empangeni - who had brazenly tried to rob him of his service pistol. The suspect was Mjadu, consequently charged for attempted robbery and, following an initial court appearance, remanded in custody pending a bail application.
Boardman was still searching for his suspect and managed to make contact with the man’s former girlfriend. She told the detective she believed her ex had been arrested by Esikhaleni police. His name was Mhlonipheni Mjadu.
After verifying the information, Boardman booked Mjadu out, saying he needed to verify his address. Sure enough, Mjadu took Boardman to KwaNdaya. A DNA sample was immediately obtained and sent for analysis.
While waiting for the results of the buccal smear, Boardman established that the three month gap in the “almost monthly” rapes was due to Mjadu being arrested and imprisoned for being in possession of an unlicensed firearm. He was late released.
Thus Mjadu had started his reign of terror with a black firearm, and once that was confiscated during his arrest, had got hold of a silver gun and continued with his crime spree. At this stage, Boardman knew he had his man.
When the DNA results returned, it was confirmed that Mjadu was linked to 17 cases of rape.
Boardman slogged to locate the victims, some of whom had changed their phone numbers, some of whom had relocated and, in the case of witnesses, some of whom had done the same. Nevertheless, the committed detective managed to locate most of the victims and witnesses, strengthening his case even further.
Mjadu’s trial took place at the Mtubatuba High Court, where the evidence led to the celebrated sentence. Boardman's thorough detective work was praised by the sitting judge. The prosecution also congratulated Boardman, whose meticulous and dedicated detecting had laid the grounds for a successful prosecution.