Vlakfontein murder suspect originally treated as a victim, court hears

06 December 2018 - 15:51 By Naledi Shange
Community members protest at a previous court appearance of two men accused of the mass slaying of the Khoza family in Vlakfontein.
Community members protest at a previous court appearance of two men accused of the mass slaying of the Khoza family in Vlakfontein.
Image: Nonkululeko Njilo

Police officers had initially treated Fita Khupe, one of the two men now implicated in the mass murder of the Khoza family in Vlakfontein, as a victim of the crime.

Investigating officer Banele Ndlovu told the Protea Magistrate's Court on Wednesday that while police had taken Khupe into custody after the bodies of his longstanding lover, Mbali Khoza, and six of her relatives were found, they had done this solely for his own safety.

Ndlovu was testifying in the bail application of Khupe and his co-accused, a man who identified himself to the family as "Sibusiso Khoza". This is not his real name, and his true identity, while known to TimesLIVE, cannot be revealed because, unlike Khupe, he is also facing sexual abuse charges.

The pair are alleged to have bludgeoned the family to death by beating them over the head with hammers and suffocating the children in the house.

"Khoza" is also accused of having had raped three of the family members.

In a bid to secure bail for his client, Khupe's lawyer, Gerhard Landman, highlighted that for six days following the discovery of the bodies, Khupe had not fled the country, despite police building a case against him.

Ndlovu clarified that the police had never indicated to Khupe that he was a suspect.

They had taken his passport on October 29 when the bodies were discovered, but this was because they wanted to check its validity and whether he was in the country legally.

While the court had initially heard that Khupe was a Mozambican national, it was revealed during the bail application that he was a Zimbabwean national and often visited that country.

Landman said that Khupe had handed himself over to the police in Evaton when he heard he was a suspect - but, again, Ndlovu said this was not true.

He alleged that they had gone searching for Khupe at the address he had supplied to police. They did not find him there. They called him and he said he had since moved to Hillbrow where he was living with a relative. Ndlovu said they had told him they had some of his belongings with them and needed to hand these over. They asked him to  collect these at the station and that was when he was arrested.

Khoza faces charges linked to the premeditated murder of the seven family members.

The bodies of the seven were found hidden in the house under piles of sand that had been brought in from outside. Some of the bodies were in a locked room in the house while others were stashed in a backroom outside the main house.

Khupe's version was that when he returned from Zimbabwe, he found that his lover, Mbali Khoza, was not home and believed she was away visiting relatives in Pietermaritzburg.

He was alleged to have slept in the house where the seven bodies were kept, woken up the next morning, made breakfast and cleaned the kitchen.

Ndlovu said he did not understand how Khupe was able to remain in the house with the strong stench of decomposing bodies.

"If one person instructed another to murder seven people, would he return to that house to sleep in there among decomposing bodies?" Landman asked Ndlovu.

"Yes, it doesn't make sense that a person can go and sleep in a house that people are murdered [in]," Ndlovu replied. "The whole scene totally does not make sense to me."

Landman asked Ndlovu: "Would you agree with me that it is highly impossible that [Khupe] would instruct [Khoza] to leave the bodies there knowing that he will be coming back on the 27th?"

"I cannot speak on a person's bravery," he replied.

"Are you testifying that he is a brave man because he is willing to sleep among decomposing bodies?" Landman asked Ndlovu.

"When you have done such, it means you are very much brave," Ndlovu said.

Khoza's testimony was that he had been kidnapped and threatened back in 2015 by a gang linked to Khupe that had instructed him to kill the family.

He said he was instructed to create a Facebook page, using the fake name of Sibusiso Khoza, where he befriended family members of the Khoza family, alleging that he was a long-lost relative.

The family had later welcomed him into their home.

Khoza has admitted to killing the Khoza family and also raping two of the children and one of the adults in the household.

He, however, has said that he intends to plead not guilty to the crime as he claimed to have been forced into carrying out the murders.

Ndlovu claimed that Khupe was linked to the killing, alleging that the trip to Zimbabwe was for him to have a strong alibi.

To further intensify the alibi, he was alleged to have deposited R950 in a bank account that Mbali Khoza, his now deceased lover, had convinced him to open in April.

According to Khupe, the account was opened for him to make savings towards her lobola.

Other than this amount, only R74 had been in the account since it was opened.

The case continues.