Sindiso Magaqa. Picture: SOWETAN/ANTONIO MUCHAVE
Sindiso Magaqa. Picture: SOWETAN/ANTONIO MUCHAVE

The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal is in disarray just weeks before the May 8 general elections following the arrest of two mayors and the provisional withdrawal of murder charges against one of them.

The ANC leaders in the province were under pressure to remove the two mayors before Monday for their alleged involvement  in the deaths of two prominent youth leaders. However, the state asked for the provisional withdrawal of charges against Harry Gwala mayor Mluleki Ndobe, who had been arrested and spent a week in jail for the murder of former ANC Youth League (ANCYL) secretary-general and Umzimkhulu local municipality councillor Sindiso Magaqa.

At the Umzimkhulu magistrate’s court, prosecutor Shohana Moodley also withdrew charges of murder and attempted murder against Harry Gwala municipal manager Zwelibanzi Sikhosana.

Ndobe, Sikhosana and three alleged hitmen — Sibonelo Myeza, Mbulelo Mpofana and Mxolisi Ncalane — had been arrested for the 2017 murder of Magaqa and the attempted murder of councillors Jabu Msiya and Nontsikelelo Mafu.

The three were coming from a political meeting when they were ambushed and their vehicles sprayed with bullets. Magaqa died several weeks after the attack; Msiya and Mafu were injured but survived.

Moodley told a packed courtroom that the state was applying to provisionally withdraw the charges against the two, saying the state had been waiting for information regarding the case against them. Moodley added that it would be unfair to continue to keep them in custody.

However, Moodley said the state was ready to proceed with the bail application by Myeza, Mpofana and Ncalane, which it would oppose.

Ndobe, who is in third spot on the list of candidates to be deployed to the provincial  legislature, said he felt both vindicated and angry that he had to spend a week in jail and have his reputation tattered for a crime he had not committed. He was consulting his lawyers on the way forward.

Newcastle mayor

Newcastle local municipality mayor Ntuthuko Mhlaba appeared in the Madadeni magistrate’s court, also on Monday, where he was formally charged with the 2017 murder of former ANCYL regional leader Wandile Ngobeni.

Mhlaba was remanded into custody and will appear again on April 1 for a formal bail application. Mhlaba, who has been in the position for the past few weeks, has opened a case with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) saying the team investigating political violence wanted to “frame” him ahead of his inauguration. 

The arrests have fueled rumours of the use of state resources in ongoing factional battles. 

Provincial ANC spokesperson Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu said the party would hold a press briefing on Tuesday to discuss the recent political developments in the province, including the arrests.

“The ANC in the province of KwaZulu-Natal will announce the way forward with regard to the cause of action in relation to the deployment of the affected comrades. Although the ANC believes in the principle of innocent until proven guilty, the law must take its course. The ANC hopes that the families of our late comrades, friends, and members of our movement will finally find closure, knowing that our justice system works without fear or favour," she said.

Xolani Dube, an independent political analyst,  said the arrests and the alleged bungling of the case is worrisome. 

“To ordinary people, it is not clear whether there are definite cases to answer [for] or if state resources are being used to fight factional ANC battles. This is why it is important that there should be independent and impartial police and prosecutorial officials whose decision will not be tainted by suspicions of partisan machinations.”