It's terrifying, the world our cops face daily
A judgment takes you deep into the Cape underworld, revealing the brutalised soul of a community
I have reported on police killings in Cape Town for a number of years. But not until this past Friday could I truly appreciate the tricky web of skulduggery that the police have to untangle in their daily fight against the scourge of crime.
A judgment handed down by the Cape Town High Court last week in the trial of three tik addicts convicted of killing a police officer gave me a sense of how our communities are brutalised by crime. After reading the 29-page judgment I was overwhelmed by emotion.
The judgment takes you deep into the belly of the underworld, revealing the criminals’ disregard for human life. It does so in a way that goes far beyond mere statistics which, though immensely worrying, are impersonal and do not detail the impact the killings have on the individual police officers’ families – and colleagues.
Certainly, one death of a police officer at the hands of criminals is one too many.
The judgment handed down deals with the case of a criminal trio – Athenkosi Mdluli, Xolani Ndesi and Jackson Mhobo – who shot and killed Constable Mziwonke Siwisa and stole his official firearm in an orgy of crime during the early hours of December 12 2016. What followed is perplexing.The criminals were abetted by a number of people in the tiny community of Bloekombos, Kraaifontein, including an alleged gun runner, drug dealers and self-confessed robbers. The alleged drug runner even had the nerve to call the police, in front of the murderers, to confirm the trio's claim that they killed a cop. And after he got it confirmed, the killer gloated to him: “Yes, I am the one who killed the police officer.”
According to the judgment, the men stole a car and drove around the neighbourhood until it ran out of petrol. They then dumped it in the yard of a local mechanic. At about 5am they met Siwisa, who was stationed at Cape Town Sea Border Policing in Wallacedene, on his way to work.
He was partly dressed in his police uniform and disguised with jeans and a jacket to avoid being targeted. Even that did not save his life; the drug-crazed men shot him from the back.
“It is common cause between [Ndesi and Mhobo] that the three accused dropped out of school and are unemployed,” Acting Judge Daniel Thulare said in the judgment.
“They use tik, a drug, and make a living and provide for their addiction to the drug by committing crime, mostly theft and robbery around their neighbourhood of Kraaifontein.”
After shooting the police officer, the three went to the home of a local drug dealer known as TaNkwera where they smoked tik as if nothing had happened. Along the way they met Phillip Ntamo who gave them a lift and they tried to sell him Siwisa’s firearm. They were familiar with Ntamo because he also sold drugs.
Phillip, who did not buy the gun, is the one who made the call to the police.
“Phillip made a call to his nephew who is in the police and stationed in Kraaifontein asking about the murder of a police official that morning,” the judgment reads. “[Mdluli] knew Phillip because [he] was a drug dealer and Phillip used to sell drugs. Phillip was not involved in the physical sales but used other people to sell for him.”At this point the tale sounds like a Tarantino film script. But it gets even dirtier, with an even longer list of shady characters. Resident Amanda Leduba testified that Ndesi introduced Mdluli to her in 2006 after his release from prison. “They used to walk around the township together, smoked tik together and were also up to mischief together in Bloekombos,” the judgment said. On the morning of Siwisa’s death, Leduba was with a friend, NoBanana, and “after purchasing some tik they went to Thembalethu Tsatshela’s residence where they ordinarily went to smoke tik. Thambaluthu Tsatshela is also known as TaNkwera.”
While Leduba sat in the drug den, the trio arrived and Mdluli narrated what they had just done. Leduba told the court that Mdluli was worried that he had dropped the holster for Siwisa’s firearm and that his fingerprints might be on it. There was a volunteer, TaRonnie, who was willing to go and fetch the holster.
Meanwhile, Leduba recognised one of the firearms Mdluli had in his possession. One was the stolen police firearm, but he also had a second firearm on him – and this is the one Leduba recognised from their previous crime escapades.
“She knew the firearm as she had been present on occasion when that firearm was used as they robbed other people where she was involved in the robbery,” the judgment reads. “Amanda saw another firearm, which [Mdluli] also had on him which according to the discussion was the one that was recently robbed.”
Leduba was willing to go to Mdluli’s shack, along with his younger brother, to “keep watch there and report to him if the police are looking for him”. Ntamo testified that he “learnt that [Mdluli] sold the firearm to one Bomber but he does not know how true that is”.“After the fatal shot and robbery [Ndesi and Mhobo] ran away from the scene together with [Mduli] to avoid detection,” Thulare ruled. “The state proved beyond reasonable doubt that the three accused acted in common purpose in the murder of the deceased.”
While the judgment is certainly a welcome victory in the fight against crime, it is cold comfort for the victim’s family, who are now without a breadwinner. Siwisa was on his way to serve South Africa on the day he was waylaid by bloodthirsty criminals, his life snuffed out in order to feed their drug habit.
What I find particularly disturbing is how such a small community could have such an elaborate network of criminals, feeding off each other, and willing to serve each other in the perpetration of more crime. According to the 2011 census, Bloekombos is a 1.25km² area with just over 7,000 households.
To me, this story illustrates the uncomfortable truth that crimefighting cannot be left to the police alone. Communities must become more actively involved in destroying the criminal networks that have infiltrated the very soul of everyday life.
On Friday, the court handed Mdluli a life sentence and 75 years. Ndesi was sentenced to life imprisonment and 45 years, while Mhobo was handed a life sentence and 15 years. The sentences will run concurrently.