Security tight as alleged ANC killer gets bail
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Durban - A man charged with the murders of two ANC activists who were shot dead in cold blood while returning home following a branch meeting, was granted bail of R5 000 at the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court on Thursday.
The decision by Magistrate M Boikhutso to release Bonginkosi Shabalala, a former Ward J branch treasurer for the ANC in Imbali, on bail was met with loud gasps of disbelief on one side of the packed public gallery, and rapturous applause from the other.
A large contingent of public order policing and tactical response team members were posted inside and outside the courtroom to monitor the situation.
Shabalala’s family members and other supporters toyi-toyed and chanted outside the court after the bail ruling, expressing their joy, while family members of the victims stood to the side watching the demonstration with tears rolling down their cheeks.
Shabalala, 40, employed as a site inspector for Enforce Security, has been charged with two counts of murder in connection with the June 8 shooting.
The state alleges that the two victims, Phetheni Ngubane, 50, and her friend, another ANC activist, 54-year-old Badedile Tshapha, came under fire as they left an ANC branch election meeting in Imbali.
Tshapha died on the scene while Ngubane died later in hospital.
The state alleged at the bail application that before she died, Ngubane identified Shabalala as her killer.
Opposing Shabalala’s bail, the state also alleged that he had defected to the EFF and had killed the women for political reasons.
Shabalala denied this, and submitted to the court his ANC membership card and fully paid-up membership receipt as proof of his ANC affiliation. He maintains that he is a dedicated member of the ANC.
However, Shabalala did admit that factionalism had erupted within his branch, especially in the run-up to the 2016 local government poll.
In her judgment, Magistrate Boikhutso slammed the state and investigating officer for “twisting the political motive behind the killings”.
“The state alleged that Shabalala was an EFF member who went all out to stop ANC members from campaigning in Imbali, and alleged that he also stopped people from registering to vote in March. No further substantiations were submitted to the court in terms of these allegations,” she said.
Boikhutso added that she did not understand why the state had alleged that Shabalala was an EFF member.
“Why not any other party? Why the EFF? There is no substance to this allegation, save to stir up trouble and create political instability, which I must say is very irresponsible, especially since we are a few weeks away from local government elections,” Boikhutso said.
The magistrate referred to the murder of Nathi Hlongwa, a prominent ANC member, who was gunned down in the same week as this incident.
“This is unacceptable, and I hope that the necessary measures have been put in place to secure the safety of party members both by the parties themselves and the electoral commission. These killers must be brought to book,” she said.
Addressing the strength of the state’s case against Shabalala, Boikhutso said there was nothing linking him directly to the murders, apart from a dying declaration from one of the victims.
The state is also still unsure if the firearm recovered from Shabalala upon his arrest was linked to the murders, as postmortem and ballistics reports were still outstanding.
The magistrate found that Shabalala had presented himself as a responsible and law-abiding citizen who had no criminal record. She found it in his favour that he had taken the court into his confidence and was also prepared to relocate from Pietermaritzburg for the duration of the trial.
Shabalala was released on bail with strict conditions.
These include that he relocate to Bulwer until the case was finalised, and was also forbidden from entering Imbali, not to influence state witnesses or attend any political meetings for the case’s duration.
He must report to the police station three times a week.
The case was adjourned to August 23.