Police on high alert at funeral of alleged mastermind in PMB prison escape
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Durban: Sphelele Ntsuntsu Mkhize, the alleged gang mastermind who escaped from a police truck on its way from New Prison to the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court in April, was buried on Saturday.
Mkhize was among the seven people, including two women, who were shot dead by police this week.
The five men were renting a house in the suburban Scottsville area since the beginning of May, paying R15 000 excluding water and electricity.
Security officers who patrol the neighbourhood started noticing a weird pattern of activities during the day but when the sun set, the men were out and about and were often seen in different vehicles suspected to have been hijacked.
Police were tipped off and the Pietermaritzburg crime intelligence unit began investigating. An operation to apprehend the men suspected of being involved in numerous murders, business robberies and hijackings, rapes and even holding women against their will, was then planned for Monday.
Around 2pm, police arrived at the residence but the suspects allegedly opened fire. There was an exchange of fire and police shot and killed all seven people at the home.
Police minister Bheki Cele said the gang had been terrorising the city and that there would now be peace. He said Mkhize had been the gang leader and had a long list of warrants of arrests.
Seven firearms were found, an AK 47, a rifle, a shotgun and four pistols. Three vehicles were in the yard, two of which were hijacked.
"The men were notorious and very brutal to the people,” said Cele.
Days after the shootout, graphic images of four men in bloody body bags with visible gunshot wounds to their upper bodies and some to their faces, were widely circulated with community members believing them to be images of the dead suspects.
The city has since been engulfed in fear with threats of hijackings from crime syndicates linked to Mkhize. However, police vowed they would make their presence felt and ensure the safety of all residents.
Colonel Thembeka Mbhele said all suspects had been positively identified, including the two women.
Mbhele said the graphic images making the rounds on social media were not of the suspects as only criminal experts were allowed on the crime scene. She said officers steered clear and were only able to access the crime scene once the bodies had been removed.
“We don’t know anything about these images and our procedure does not allow us to take photos and videos. We cannot confirm whether the images are of the suspects or not.”
Mbhele added that police officers were widely deployed in Pietermaritzburg and surrounds since Monday and had remained on high alert following Mkhize’s funeral which was held yesterday.
“It is well known that when criminals die, their associates instil fear in communities and embark on other criminal activities in honour of their colleagues. Police are out in their numbers and they will not allow criminals to do as they please.”
Mkhize was buried yesterday in Caluza, outside of Pietermaritzburg.
The Sunday Tribune