KZN mayor who accused police of conspiracy is arrested for political killings

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DURBAN, March 22 – The mayor of the Newcastle Local Municipality has been arrested, allegedly in connection with the murder of an African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) leader in 2016.

Dr. Ntuthuko Mahlaba — who is also the regional secretary of the ANC’s eMalahleni Region — was arrested on Friday afternoon at the municipality, according to sources known to African News Agency (ANA).

The spokesperson for Police Minister Bheki Cele, Reneilwe Serero, told ANA on Friday evening that she could not divulge the name of the arrested individual as he was yet to appear in court.

“I can confirm that one senior official from Newcastle municipality has been arrested today by the political task team and will appear in court within the next 48-hours,” said Serero.

Mahlaba is the second mayor and high profile ANC provincial leader to be arrested this week.

On Sunday, Harry Gwala District Municipality mayor Mluleki Ndobe was arrested with three co-accused for his alleged involvement in the plot to assassinate former ANCYL secretary general Sindiso Magaqa.

Magaqa was shot in 2017 and died from complications a few months afterwards. Two colleagues who were with him were injured but survived.

Ndobe remains in custody until his formal bail application, which is set down for Monday and Tuesday next week. He has been charged with one count of murder and two of attempted murder and will be prosecuted under common purpose, meaning he conspired with his co-accused to kill Magaqa and his colleagues.

It is understood that Mahlaba’s arrest is in connection with the murder of Wandile Ngubeni, ANCYL regional deputy chairperson for eMalahleni.

Ngubeni, 28, was shot dead at Ikasi Lounge, Madadeni township, in May 2016, while he was socialising with a group of friends.

According to eyewitnesses 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.

2016 was a particularly brutal year 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 – a general practitioner – 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. He was instated as mayor following the 2016 local government elections and is known to be a staunch anti-corruption campaigner.

ANC anti-corruption activist and whistleblower in the Magaqa murder, Thabiso Zulu, told ANA that Mahlaba’s arrest proved his long-held and publicly stated view that “senior comrades of the ANC are the ones responsible for assassinations and butchering of other ANC members”.

“We call on the ANC to be decisive and immediately remove bad apples from positions of leadership.”

In August last year, Cele expanded and upgraded the task team investigating political killings in KZN.

The new team was shuffled to include seasoned detectives from KZN, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape and Western Cape. The team has 118 new members, while eight members from the previous team had been retained.

Cele also told journalists in Durban that some of the cases that had been withdrawn under the former task team had been reinstated under the new team. The cases being investigated had increased from 98 to 126 under the new team, he said.

ANA understands that a third mayor and high profile ANC member in the province is also currently being investigated for involvement in political killings. (ANA)