ANALYSIS: Why did State not want to hear from Meyiwa murder scene main player?

JOHANNESBURG - When the news of Brigadier Philani Ndlovu’s passing broke last month, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) was quick to say that the former Gauteng head of detectives was not a crucial witness in the Senzo Meyiwa case. The Bafana Bafana captain and Orlando Pirates goalkeeper was gunned down at the home of his girlfriend, singer Kelly Khumalo, in October 2014. About eight years later, his alleged killers are being tried in the Pretoria high court. But as the State’s first witness has been questioned and cross-examined for over three weeks now, it’s clear the defence is not going down without a fight.

The news of Ndlovu’s passing broke at a time when the feelings of many South Africans on social media were heightened and the interest in this case was arguably at one of its highest peaks. The lawyer for the first four accused, Malesela Teffo, had just been arrested in a dramatic Hollywood-style apprehension effected by the Hillbrow magistrates court. It turned out he had failed to appear before the court for charges of common assault and trespassing, but he insisted that Police Minister Bheki Cele wanted him to be taken off the Meyiwa case as he was making “earthshattering allegations”. Consequently, the death of Ndlovu fuelled further questions and conspiracies about his sudden passing. Many on social media claimed Ndlovu was a key state witness that was going to testify and make disturbing revelations of his own. But in a statement, NPA spokesperson Lumka Mahanjana said the State had not taken a statement from Ndlovu as he was not expected to take the witness stand. After the recent revelations made by Sergeant Thabo Mosia, who was the first forensic police officer on the scene of the crime, the question arises – why would the State not want South Africa to hear from such an intricate player in the Meyiwa murder scene?

A CALL FROM NDLOVU

Mosia has told the Pretoria high court that on 26 October 2020, just before midnight, he received a call from Ndlovu to attend to a crime scene in Vosloorus. Mosia said Ndlovu told him that popular footballer Meyiwa had been shot and rushed to hospital. The only detail he could not give is the exact address of where Meyiwa was shot. This has been highlighted as odd by the defence as Ndlovu happened to be at the house when Mosia arrived just 25 minutes later. Mosia says he was told to go to the Botshelong hospital in Vosloorus, where Meyiwa had been rushed for medical attention, to get the address of the crime scene. But from Mosia’s testimony it has become exceedingly clear that Ndlovu’s contribution was far greater than just calling officers to the scene.

WHICH SPOTS TO INVESTIGATE

The courtroom was further enlightened on what happened at the scene of Senzo’s murder. It has become apparent that police may have compromised their investigation in more ways than one. Mosia said when he arrived at the murder scene Ndlovu took him into the house and told him what supposedly happened. According to Ndlovu, there had been a break-in at the Khumalo residency when two men entered the house and robbed the occupants. He said after a scuffle ensued, Meyiwa was shot and the men fled the scene with Khumalo’s cellphone.

Mosia, who was ready to take pictures, says when he settled in he took control of the crime scene, making sure it was cordoned off. He said Ndlovu instructed him where exactly to take pictures and exhibits in the house. This raised the eyebrows of those seated in the court gallery. Mosia also said upon his visit he took just eight pictures before realising that he needed backup and the assistance of a senior officer. So, who was really in charge of that crime scene? At this point in the testimony - it had become concerning to me that Mosia, who described himself as a forensic expert, was being told which part of the house to investigate.

'NDLOVU DID NOT TELL ME TO DO SO'

Last week, this statement became Mosia’s mantra as he was asked why he did not process certain parts of the crime scene when he was first there. Advocate Zandile Mshololo, the legal representative for accused number 5, Sifisokuhle Ntuli, asked Mosia how he could not have seen a fragmented bullet on the kitchen counter just metres from the door that he had marked. Mosia told the court that he had not seen the bullet because Ndlovu simply did not show it to him. He repeated that he only took pictures of the parts of the house where Ndlovu led him. The defence did not take this lying down, questioning Mosia’s competency and Ndlovu’s authority on forensic matters. Mosia says while he was more knowledgeable on forensic matters, having six years of experience at the time, Ndlovu was still his superior and he was there to merely assist the detective.

On Friday, Adv Mshololo questioned why Mosia did not test the seven people who were in the house when Meyiwa was killed, for gunshot residue. He has conceded that this would have assisted the court in finding Meyiwa’s killer especially if he was among the seven people who were present when he was shot as alleged by a second docket investigated by police. Mosia says he simply was not told by Ndlovu to test for residue. One would imagine a seasoned forensic officer would not need a directive to do so. Not only did Mosia not test for residue but also conceded to not questioning any of the seven, saying he solely relied on Ndlovu’s account. The sergeant said he had no reason to doubt what Ndlovu was saying as he knew better as the cop who arrived on the scene first. This makes one wonder just how much officers of the law rely on mere “trust” of one another.

HANDING OVER THE CRIME SCENE TO NDLOVU

According to Mosia, Ndlovu was in control of the murder scene before he arrived. Mosia says when he eventually found the Khumalo house, he took control. When he realised that he was dealing with a complex high-profile matter, he decided to stop processing the scene and called for backup from the Gauteng crime management task team. When he decided to leave the house at around 1am, he handed the crime scene over to Ndlovu. This means Ndlovu had complete control over who entered the house, what part of the scene they had access to and what could be placed and removed. It is therefore preposterous that Ndlovu would not be at the very least a State witness to account for the eight hours that he was in total control of the scene. When being cross-examined, Mosia could not answer definitively where Kelly Khumalo's mother, Gladness, and the other occupants of the house, spent the night at the house. He said he did not know but he could not rule it out. Because the sergeant left Ndlovu on the crime scene, the brigadier would be the most senior police officer to answer these questions and give his view on the potential contamination thereof. Another reason for Ndlovu to have taken the witness stand.

A THICKENING PLOT

The legal team for accused number 1 to 4 has been rather vocal and direct in its belief on what happened on the night that Meyiwa died. Advocate Teffo has told the court repeatedly how one of the people who were in the house when Meyiwa died should be charged and tried for his murder. According to Teffo, after Meyiwa was killed, senior police officers and former community safety MEC, Sizakele Nkosi- Malobane met with the Khumalo family and those who were in the house to formulate a plan to cover up for Meyiwa’s real killer. Teffo insists Brigadier Ndlovu was in on this. This is an allegation both Khumalo and Nkosi-Malobane have denied vehemently. The lawyer for accused number 5, Advocate Mshololo, has not said this in so many words but she has asked detailed questions about Ndlovu’s involvement. Such as how he did not have an address for Mosia when he called him to the crime scene but happened to be there himself just 25 minutes later when the sergeant arrived. She has also questioned why Mosia took instructions from Ndlovu on how to process the crime scene when Mosia was the forensic expert.

Whether Brigadier Ndlovu had a hand in covering up Meyiwa’s murder may never be known. He will never be able to give his account of the extent of the role he played on the night he attended to the scene. What is clear, however, is that the Gauteng head of detectives could not have been dismissed as a mere “by the way” in the State’s investigation. It has become apparent, however, that:

  • Ndlovu spent hours more on the scene of Meyiwa’s murder than Sergeant Mosia, who has been testifying for weeks.

  • Ndlovu had much more control of the crime scene than Mosia as he has conceded that he took directives and instructions from the brigadier on which parts of the house to investigate.

  • Much of the forensic evidence processed and presented in court was collected according to Ndlovu's discretion and if he could, he should have been questioned on how he decided what was important to note and process.

The unavoidable question is: how could the State wrap up its investigation without a statement from such a central figure in the processing of Senzo Meyiwa’s murder scene?