19 June 2024 | 10:56 PM

Mdluli lives in comfort, while murder trial witness lives in fear

Key Takeaways

He receives a salary of at least R1.3?million a year, even though he does not work. He gets to live in his community and in his own home. He can move around freely.

She has had to find new work, changing jobs more than once. She cannot return to her community and friends, nor live in her own home. Forced to lead a life of anonymity, uncertainty, constant fear and loneliness, her freedom has been all but taken away.

He is Richard Mdluli, the former head of the police’s crime intelligence division, who is facing 12 charges in the Johannesburg high court, including kidnapping, intimidation, assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and defeating the ends of justice.

The charges relate to the 1999 murder of Vosloorus resident Oupa Ramogibe, who had secretly married Mdluli’s ex-girlfriend, Tshidi Buthelezi, a few months earlier.

She is Alice Manana, a close friend and near-neighbour of Buthelezi’s. Manana, who is now in the witness protection programme, allegedly tried to protect her friend and her new husband from Mdluli in late 1998.

She alleges she was assaulted and kidnapped by Mdluli and his co-accused, former police officer Mthembeni Mthunzi.

Mdluli, then the branch commander at the Vosloorus police station, allegedly forced her to take him to Buthelezi and Ramogibe, who were hiding in Orange Farm after Mdluli discovered they had married.

Manana’s ordeal continues. In the current trial she has had to relive her trauma, answering detailed questions by Mdluli’s advocate, Ike Motloung, about a statement she made to police in 2010 regarding the circumstances of Ramogibe’s death.

She had already endured a fairly tough cross-examination by Mthunzi’s advocate, Jacques Pienaar.

Manana’s sister, Sarah Ramogale, was also placed in witness protection in connection with the Romogibe murder enquiry. She and the Ramogibe family have also been forced to revisit the painful events of 16 years ago.

Mdluli, Mthunzi and two former Vosloorus police colleagues, Samuel Dlomo and Nkosana “Killer” Ximba, were arrested in 2011 and charged in connection with Ramogibe’s murder.

The subsequent inquest, instituted by Gauteng National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) head Andrew Chauke, led to the provisional dropping of charges in 2012.

Magistrate Jurg Viviers, who presided over the Boksburg inquest, found that “on the balance of probabilities” there was not enough evidence to implicate the four accused in Ramogibe’s death.

Viviers did not test the charges of kidnapping, intimidation, assault and defeating the ends of justice.

But there was to be another twist in the story. Following an application by lobby group Freedom Under Law, the Supreme Court of Appeal forced the NPA to do an about-turn.

Most of the charges, including those of fraud and corruption relating to the alleged “gross abuse” of crime intelligence’s secret slush fund, were then reinstated against Mdluli.

The NPA did not reinstate the murder and attempted murder charges and Ximba, now a senior intelligence officer, and Dlomo were not re-charged.

The fraud and corruption claims against Mdluli were uncovered during the Ramogibe murder investigation. Allegations also emerged that Mdluli had recruited family members for crime intelligence’s covert agent programme.

The fraud and corruption charges against him were also controversially withdrawn, only to be later reinstated against him, fellow intelligence officer Hein Barnard and the division’s former financial officer, Solly Lazarus.

The three are due to appear in a separate case in the Specialised Commercial Crime Court in August.

Despite the host of charges against him, Mdluli has consistently denied any criminal liability, instead blaming a conspiracy hatched by detractors jealous of his appointment as crime intelligence chief.

He was suspended in mid-2012 and has continued to draw a hefty salary ever since.

Given the infighting and intrigue in the police, and particularly in crime intelligence, there may be some truth in the claims of conspiracy: the investigation into Ramogibe’s murder was resuscitated after Mdluli’s 2009 promotion.

Police sources told amaBhungane that, although “there could have been a conspiracy at first … once we started looking at the Ramogibe case, we found there was a lot to investigate and a case to answer”.

With Mdluli – all smiles and shiny shoes – in the dock, Motloung subjected the state witnesses, including Manana, to a torrid grilling. He wasted no time in laying the ground for a defence of political conspiracy.

The flamboyant Motloung told Manana that there was “no trace of your assault case, according to police records. It means the first time you made your statement about this assault was in December 2010.”

Manana denied this. The court interpreter translated her response thus: “I maintain what happened to me is the truth, the complete truth.”

According to the indictment, Manana was attacked in 1998 at her home in Windmill Park and had to go to hospital the next day. She says she opened a case of assault and attempted murder against Mdluli, Mthunzi and Ximba.

“Master plan

Motloung attacked the allegations as part of a “master plan” constructed by “state agents” to discredit Mdluli.

Echoing his rhetoric during the 2012 inquest, Motloung claimed there was a “sinister plot” to derail Mdluli’s career.

He told Manana: “But the cherry on the top of this master plan is that you must be placed in witness protection, so the judge can see he [Mdluli] is so dangerous that you have to be kept elsewhere.”

He added: “At least in my mind, there is a great possibility that you are innocent – just collateral damage being used by state agents to put things in statements.”

Manana was surrounded by up to five witness protection agents at all times in court.

The trial continues.

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.

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Before joining the amaBhungane team in 2017, Micah was the national coordinator for media freedom and diversity at the Right2Know Campaign. He holds a Masters in African Studies from Oxford University and a BA Honours in History from Wits University.

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