When Mlandu Mnguni was brutally killed in a house robbery the family was shattered – but good detective work by police ensured a successful prosecution.
Karabo Jake Matlala articulates the traumatic impact of violent crime on families of victims and pays tribute to the SAPS and NPA
I was attending a trade union meeting on Thursday 15 October 2015.
I got delayed and requested my brother-in-law Mlandu Mnguni to drop my daughter at my mkhukhu. We were staying about 5km apart.
My wife says he was in a jovial mood that evening. And he even remarked: Makoti go nkga monate o apeile eng [daughter-in-law it smells so nice what are you cooking]?
My phone had run out of battery when I arrived home. I left it on the charger without switching it on. I was so tired that day. And later, at around 20:40 I heard my wife’s phone vibrating. But I was deep in my sleep. It rang several times and she answered.
It was my niece Nolwazi aka Kearabetswe. My wife didn’t hear properly because she woke up abruptly.
And my wife said: “Nolwazi a re Mnguni o thutswe ke koloi [Nolwazi says Mnguni has been knocked down by a car].”
I had recently moved to that mkhukhu and I have been there with Nolwazi on a few occasions. And honestly, I didn’t think she would navigate to the place.
Nolwazi was with mfo Sphiwe Mnguni at the gate to fetch me. And they were not allowed entry as per standard security procedure at our residential complex. I went to the gate and opened.
As the gate was opening and rolling slowly, Nolwazi ran to me in an usual manner. I could tell that something was wrong. She hugged me and said: “Malome ba thuntshitse papa [uncle they’ve shot my dad.”
We drove to the residence in Doornpoort, just behind the Wonderboom airport. I think the drive with Sphiwe took only about two minutes and it was not a straight road. The car was flying.
I could see by the number of emergency lights and vehicles in the street that something tragic had happened. The whole yard was cordoned off with SAPS yellow tape and entry into the house was restricted.
The garage door leading to the main bedroom was open. I was stopped by one police officer just when I was about to get inside the garage. I could hear mamogolo/mamkhulu Barbara Tlhokammoni Mnguni telling the police officer: “He’s the brother.” I was then allowed entry into the house.
I saw my sister Lebogang Mnguni crying terribly and I could tell that there’s something horribly wrong. And no one was telling me anything. I then asked, what’s wrong? One white gentleman took me outside the house. I’m assuming he is from the CPF. And he said: “I’m sorry, your brother is late.”
My sister narrated the horrific story later on. She says she was busy marking learners’ scripts in the dining room that evening. She heard footsteps and voices outside not far from the dining room.
She then asked Nolwazi whether they have locked the door. She confirmed. And while she was talking to Nolwazi she could still hear the voices. She went to the main bedroom where her husband was watching TV and told him: “Okare go na le batho mo jarateng [it seems there are people in the yard].
She followed Mlandu and checked if the front door was locked. It was indeed locked. He checked the back door leading to the swimming pool and it was also locked. He then proceeded to the side door in the kitchen door leading to the carport.
He then opened the door. And my sister says: “The first thing that I saw was a gun.”
Mlandu quickly closed the door and locked. Those crooks sprayed the door with nine bullets at close range, about 1 or 1.5 metres away.
Mlandu was hit by two bullets in the upper body. He managed to crawl to the nearest bathroom and that’s where he took his last breath. Lebo then ran to the main bedroom.
Those crooks broke the door and took a laptop, plasma TV and one black bag which they assumed was carrying another laptop.
Nolwazi says she called the police while lying under the bed. And as usual the police on the line wanted more details. And she told the police officer to listen to the gun shots in the background. Furthermore, she says she thought of running to the main bedroom.
It was a good decision not to do so because most of the bullets went through the passage and hit the door to the main bedroom.
A neighbour who is a soldier said he heard the first two shots and quickly went to get his firearm. He tip-toed next to the wall looking towards the Mnguni’s home. And he says he could see them but they couldn’t. They were already leaving. He says he was afraid to shoot them from behind because it’s against the law. I honestly wished I was that neighbour at that time.
I must admit I drove around that evening looking for crooks that I didn’t know. I was hoping and praying that we will meet and settle the matter further.
The door was so badly damaged that it had to be replaced. I remember the day after replacing the door Nolwazi said: “At least I can sleep now.”
The family had to vacate the traumatic house and look for alternative accommodation nearby. The walls and doors are bullet riddled and resemble a war zone. My sister had to take a demotion as a deputy principal and settle for a HOD post near her new home. She said she could no longer travel the route to KwaMhlanga any longer because she used to travel it with her husband. My sister said it with a painful heart: “They’ve killed my husband like a dog.”
His sibling rakgadi (aunt) Sadi gave a proper account when she was interviewed by Rapport newspaper: “There was a pool of blood on the kitchen floor.”
I took malome Pitso Kgatshe on a walkabout behind the swimming pool to show him what really happened. He stopped, shook his head and said: “Batho ba ba bolaile sbare sa rona botlhoko [they’ve killed our brother in law in a cruel and barbaric manner].”
I told one comrade lately that when Mlandu went out, he was not going to fight but to investigate. He was not armed with anything. He did not even own a firearm.
And if they had pointed him with the firearm and instructed him to open and give them valuable items, he would have done so without any hassle. He could have given them his last cent in the pocket. He was a peaceful man and valued family more than anything.
It’s prudent to once more salute the SA Police Service and the National Prosecuting Authority for excellent work during the case. And four crooks, all of them Zimbabwean nationals, were arrested, charged and convicted on two counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder, two counts of armed robbery and illegal possession of illegal firearms and ammunition.
Even if they could have hired senior counsels to represent them, they would still get life sentences because the case was watertight from start to finish. We attended the trial as family knowing that the case will be transferred to the high court, that there will be conviction and the state will argue for maximum sentence. We were assured by the NPA.
The lowest jail sentence was 35 years and the highest was 55 years. They attempted to apply for bail and it was opposed and ultimately dismissed. The youngest was 22 years old and the oldest was 27.
But what was more painful is that after killing my brother-in-law they didn’t go home and sleep. They went to another home and killed a husband, Mr Els, who was deep in his sleep and stole several valuable items.
Mogatsa! Jojo! Dubi! Molato!
You’ll forever be missed. Rest in peace broer!
When the law works
There are times when SAPS and NPA give a hopeless effort on some cases. And reasonably and justifiably so we protest. But there are times when they surpass the bar and not much is said about it.
When my brother-in-law was shot and killed with such brutality, it was so shocking and anger engulfed family, friends, colleagues, learners and his comrades. There was even suspicion of a hit. I told my sister that if there’s no progress within four days I wwould hire private investigators.
The SAPS investigation started the same night that he was killed. Detectives combed all over the premises and left. They came back after about two hours after realizing that they didn’t comb the car which was parked under the carport and fortunately no one touched the car. But nothing was found on the car
On Friday, 16 October about four teams of detectives came to the premises at different intervals and continued to analyse the crime scene. It was the same thing on Saturday and Sunday.
I remember on Saturday, 17 October Sphiwe Mnguni said he heard a rumour that there were suspects who had been arrested but promised he would keep his ears on the ground.
On Monday, 18 October around 05:00 I received a news24 article via WhatsApp from comrade Joseph Tshisevhe, saying some foreign nationals have been arrested and may be linked to most crimes committed around Pretoria North. The article was quoting SAPS Provincial spokesperson Captain Kay Makhubele.
My sister received a call from the Investigating Officers to come to Pretoria North police station on the same day. We went together and we were taken to a storage room where stolen items were kept. We positively identified both the plasma TV and laptop.
Just when we were about to leave, one family that looked so angry and agitated arrived. It was the wife of Mr Els and the kids. They also came to identify their stolen goods. It was a laptop, cellphone and pepper spray.
Sometimes during the week, I can’t remember the exact date, the Investigating Officer Warrant Officer Jan Sinango called me and my sister to the detective offices in Sinoville. I saw him busy on some documents and honestly, I didn’t understand why we were called. Later on he was on the phone several times.
When we arrived at home I then realized he was communicating with other detectives who took a suspect to the family house and took them through what happened.
I remember when we arrived, my cousin Mammuso Mankhoe said: “Le tswa kae, maponesa na tlisitse seboshwa [where have you been, the police had brought a suspect].”
So the whole aim was to keep me and my sister away when the suspect came to take the police through what transpired during the night in question.
Officer Sinango says that suspect was fully cooperating from the start and he made a confession. W/O Sinango says he called other police officers from different police stations to register the confession. He then took the suspect to the medical doctor afterwards to be examined. The doctor produced a medical report. He says suspects have a tendency of making a confession and only to argue later that they did so because they were assaulted by the police.
The case initially started at the Regional Court in Pretoria North and mostly it was postponements because investigations were underway and the police were still awaiting the results from the laboratory.
As usual those crooks insulted us in the gallery. And one of their friends threatened us outside the court room and ANC comrades from the branch sorted him out physically. Those crooks stayed behind after the case of Mlandu to face other charges which dated back to the year 2010. It was difficult to trace them because of the database. Their fingerprints were not on the system.
The police received a tip off the following day after the commission of the crime at the Mnguni home, Friday, 16 October that they will be coming to the area in the evening. They waited for them on the R101 around Bon Accord.
One constable says he saw a Toyota Rav4 which fitted the same description they got. He stood on the road and flagged the car but they didn’t stop. He says although he was not wearing uniform but was wearing a clearly marked police bullet proof.
The police chased them and switched on sirens and blue lights. One Warrant Officer says he started shooting their car while driving and it capsized. They found laptops, about four pistols and plasma TVs.
One of the suspects claimed that he was a technician and was fixing electrical appliances at Mabopane station. Warrant Officer Sinango says he went to Mabopane station and interviewed all the people who are working at the stalls and even took statements from them. No one knew that crook.
When they were arrested they were going to pick up the fourth suspect. The fourth suspect after hearing that his fellow crooks were arrested, he fled to Zimbabwe. I remember one of the detectives said he will come back, there’s poverty there and indeed he came back.
The police received a tip off that the fourth suspect was in a taxi from Hammanskraal to Mabopane station and they were given full description of the taxi and what the crook was wearing. The crook was nabbed just when he got out of the taxi.
Around the 21 November my sister was cleaning the main bedroom and found a projectile (used bullet). She called me and what must she do.
I remember telling her that I hope you didn’t touch it. And she indicated that she has already touched it. I told her to call the Investigating Officer. W/O Sinango was there with two officers to collect the projectile and took it to the laboratory.
One guy picked up a black bag in the street which they had mistaken for another laptop. Some of the documents had contact details of the Deputy Principal. The guy called the Deputy Principal and the Deputy Principal notified my sister.
I told my sister to call the Investigating Officer. He drove to pick up the bag and took it to the laboratory.
It’s prudent to indicate that when my brother-in-law was killed, he had a flash disk (memory stick) in his pocket. The police brought the flash disk to the family in a sealed plastic bag bearing the SAPS logo.
The trial started in the Pretoria High Court. Two prosecutors visited the family to inform us that they’ve been assigned the case. And they are ready to prosecute. They will secure conviction and argue for maximum sentence. It was Snr Adv Andre Wilson and one Jnr Prosecutor whose name I have unfortunately forgotten.
The state had lined up about 21 witnesses including police officers, my sister, Mrs Els. The state had to withdraw some of the witnesses because the case was already proved beyond reasonable doubt.
It was an easy case because all the suspects tried to be clean and they implicated one another as to who did what during the commission of crime. All four of them had different lawyers.
One suspect argued during his testimony that he didn’t enter the house and was just guarding the outside. He was so shocked during cross examination when the Prosecutor told him that he entered the house and his fingerprints were found on the door. And he couldn’t respond further.
At one stage he argued that he came to look for scrap metals. Judge Gert Bam asked him: “So you look for scrap metals in people’s yards at night?”
I don’t think he responded.
I only got to know once the case was concluded that a police Task Team was appointed to deal with the case hence such a huge team kept on visiting the family house.
Honestly SAPS and NPA displayed excellent performance on the case. I keep on saying such super performance should be afforded to all victims of crime irrespective of their status.
By the way Mlandu was just an ordinary citizen, a school principal who was no longer active in his trade union SADTU. He was however active in his ANC branch called Zebulon Monkoe. And his comrades made time to give to give the family the necessary support and attend court proceedings. Maatla Khongolose!
Salute SAPS. Keep up the good work NPA