3 June 2019, Pretoria – Samkelo Mkhutshwa (38) and Simphiwe Silwane (36) were expressionless when the presiding judge over the case at the Pretoria High Court handed down their sentences this morning. Both men were found guilty of the attempted murder of Marikana Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) office bearers that included branch Chairperson Malibongwe Mdazo and Msindiseni Kwenene. They were also found guilty of being in possession of an illegal firearm and ammunition, while Silwane was also found guilty for the murder of Mveliso Biyela.
Each of the men were sentenced to 25 years for attempted murder, 15 years for the possession of illegal firearms and five years for ammunition. In addition, Silwane was sentenced to life behind bars for the murder of Mveliso Biyela. Both men are from Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape.
During the trial, the court heard that on 22 July 2017 Mkhutshwa and Silwane went to the stadium at Mooinooi in Marikana after they were informed that the branch Chairperson, Mdazo, would be there. When he (Mdazo) was about to leave the stadium after the match he was shot at, while inside his vehicle. The shooting continued even after he got out of the vehicle, but he managed to escape.
In his testimony Mdazo told the court that after the soccer game, he walked to his car where he spoke to a friend. During this time, Mkhutshwa, whom he did not know at the time came over and greeted him.
“I got into my car and adjusted my seat when I heard noises which sounded like crackers. I then realised I was being shot at and I jumped out of the car to see what was going on. I then saw the gunman standing at the door of the car. The man at the door was Mkhutshwa,” Mdazo testified.
Another AMCU member who survived the ordeal is Msindiseni Kwenene who was shot at in September 2017 on his way to work. He managed to escape that attempt but another assailant armed with a handgun was waiting for him and opened fire. He was later joined by a third armed man, but Kwenene also survived the attempt on his life.
Unfortunately, Mveliso Biyela died after being shot while walking home from the Wonderkop hostel on 22 September 2017. He was with his wife and son when his killers opened fire.
The case started out with 13 suspects including National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) member Nkosinathi Mantashe but in October 2018 the state withdrew the charges against five suspects, including Mantashe, leaving the remaining eight suspects to return to the Pretoria High court on 13 May 2019.
On 20 May 2019, the case once again took an unexpected turn when the state Advocate, Annalie Coetzee, withdrew the case against six of the eight suspects stating a lack of evidence to prosecute but they continued the case against Mkhutshwa and Silwane. During the trial, Advocate Coetzee urged the court to remain cognisant of the fact that the accused were hired by begrudged ex-AMCU members to kill members they believed stole the leadership position, while the defence argued that there was no concrete evidence to support these claims especially since the state withdrew the case against the alleged conspirators.
Mkhutshwa and Silwane are believed to have been hired by former AMCU members who walked out during a mass meeting that took place at the Lonmin mine in Rustenburg, subsequently losing their membership and titles.
In her closing statement on Thursday 30 May 2019, Advocate Coetzee said the ballistics forensically linked both the accused to the shooting of Mdazo and Biyela and although the evidence against Mkhutshwa is circumstantial in the shooting of Kwenene it still raises questions that need answers.
While handing down the sentences, Judge Bert Bam stated that Mkhutshwa and Silwane were hired assassins who were driven by greed.
“Accused had no personal motive except greed. They have shown no remorse or regret,” said Judge Bam. Furthermore, the Judge said Silwane did not consider the impact the killing of Biyela would have on his wife and child. “You had no respect for Biyela and his family. Crimes of murder and attempted are rife in our country and people are killed randomly for anything. Mdazo was fortunate to survive the attempt on his life,” he continued.
“Kwenene was also fortunate to survive because you also wanted to kill him. The way this was planned is all the same, the circumstances are the same, they were all premeditated. Mkhutshwa was fortunate for not being found guilty of murder because it is clear that several people were involved in the conspiracy to commit these crimes even though some were removed for lack of evidence. The accused had no personal motive and without any consideration carried out instructions. You showed no mercy to the victims. Therefore, all relevant issues considered, the sentences fit the crimes,” concluded Judge Bert Bam.