By MICHELLE SOLOMON
FIVE alleged hitmen appeared in the East London High Court last week on charges of organised crime, racketeering and multiple murders.
Vuyani Sibanda, 42, Isaac Phiri, 69, Thabiso Mini, 27, Sakhela Magasana, 29, and Makhaya Qwala, 34, stand accused of racketeering, conspiracy to commit murder, murder, and robbery under aggravating circumstances.
The charges stretch back to 2010. All five pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
A sixth man, Ntsikelelo Manani (33), stands accused of the same crimes, but is to stand trail separately after he escaped from police custody last year and was recaptured only after the trial against the other five had started.
Manani was found guilty of escaping from police custody and sentenced to 12 months in prison.
The case is presided over by acting judge Robert Dilizo.
State prosecutor advocate Zukile Mdolomba said the men allegedly worked in a gang that robbed and murdered throughout the Border region, specifically East London, King William’s Town, Mdantsane and Fort Beaufort.
It is alleged the men were hitmen who undertook to murder people for payment of tens of thousands of rands.
The alleged “contract killers”, as they have been named, are accused of murdering five people.
The indictment against the men alleges Phiri and Manani were hired between January and May 2010 by unknown persons to kill three people, namely Tozama Tenge, Nomtsikelo Sibamba and a third unknown woman.
The murders were allegedly executed by Manani and Phiri in exchange for R30 000.
The state alleges Manani and Phiri conspired to and murdered Tenge, a Mdantsane NU2 resident.
Her brother, David Tenge, testified in November last year that he witnessed Phiri shoot and kill his sister.
At the time, Tenge said: “He [Phiri] kept asking for the mother of the house and my sister told him she had died many years ago and then I heard a loud bang. He had shot her.”
Tenge was asked to identify his sister’s killer in court, and as he pointed to Phiri he broke down in tears.
The indictment claims Sibanda was hired for R40 000 by unknown persons to kill King William’s Town resident James Duka.
Sibanda and Qwala are accused of conspiring to and murdering Duka, while Manani and Mini stand accused of murdering Sibamba, also in Mdantsane’s NU2.
A Fort Beaufort businessman Mshiceleli Ndita and his wife Nozuko were allegedly robbed by Manani, Phiri, Mini and Magasana in July 2010.
Nozuko was shot and seriously injured while Ndita was murdered, allegedly by the four men.
This week a “trial within a trial” was under way in court as the admissibility of certain evidence was debated. The case was postponed.
The five men will appear in court again on September 30.
Originally published by the Daily Dispatch.