Durban – Newcastle Local Municipality mayor, Dr. Nthuthuko Mahlaba, was remanded in custody on Monday after being charged with the murder of a regional African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) leader in 2016 and the attempted murder of another.
Mahlaba made his first appearance at the Madadeni Magistrate’s Court for his alleged part in the murder of Wandile Ngubeni, an ANCYL regional deputy chairperson who was shot and killed while with friends three years ago.
The mayor is facing four counts, the court heard: murder, attempted murder, and two counts of conspiring to commit murder.
A heavily armed police contingent escorted Mahlaba to court as hundreds of protestors gathered in the area. One group held signs reading: “Hands off our mayor” and “100% behind our mayor”, while another group – many of them ANCYL members - called for bail to be denied.
The state asked for a seven-day postponement to validate Mahlaba’s address and other information, but the defence said that as the mayor of the town, it should not have been difficult to verify Mahlaba’s particulars.
Mahlaba was eventually remanded in custody and will appear again for a formal bail application on next Monday.
Heavily armed police arrested Mahlaba – who is one of the leaders of the ANC’s eMalahleni Region and a general practitioner – on Friday afternoon at the municipality.
He was the second mayor and high profile ANC provincial leader in court for murder and attempted murder on Monday.
Harry Gwala District Municipality mayor Mluleki Ndobe and three co-accused appeared at the uMzimkhulu Magistrate’s Court in the afternoon in a bail bid after being charged for their alleged plot to assassinate former ANCYL secretary general Sindiso Magaqa.
The state provisionally withdrew charges against Ndobe and one other accused in that case, citing insufficient evidence. The two remaining accused will appear for their bail hearings on Tuesday.
The 28-year-old Ngubeni was shot dead at Ikasi Lounge, Madadeni township, in May 2016, while he was socialising with a group of friends.
According to eyewitnesses speaking at the time of the incident, two men entered the tavern and opened fire, fatally wounding Ngubeni and wounding ANCYL regional secretary Mafika Mndebele.
Barely two months after Ngubeni 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 a particularly brutal one for political killings in KwaZulu-Natal, which prompted premier Willes Mchunu to establish the Moerane Commission of Inquiry, tasked with investigating the underlying cause of the killings.
According to figures provided by Mchunu, 14 murders - thought to be politically motivated - took place between May 2016 and July 2016.
According to the Sunday Tribune, Mahlaba opened a case with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) earlier this year, alleging police had been “conspiring” since 2016 to falsely charge him with Ngubeni’s death.
He also accused police of assaulting a colleague in order to sign a false statement implicating the soon-to-be-mayor in Ngubeni’s murder.
Mahlaba was sworn in as mayor on March 1 following the resignation of Makhosini Nkosi in mid-January.
Nkosi, an advocate, allegedly resigned after receiving death threats while trying to clean up tender fraud at the municipality.