BOOK EXTRACT: Killer Cop — The Rosemary Ndlovu Story

The story of Nomia Rosemary Ndlovu, convicted in 2021 of killing her own family members and a lover, that shocked the nation. This is an extract from 'Killer Cop', the upcoming book by TimesLIVE night editor Naledi Shange that throws new light on Ndlovu's victims.

03 August 2023 - 10:09
By TimesLIVE
The book Killer Cop: The Rosemary Ndlovu Story.
Image: Supplied The book Killer Cop: The Rosemary Ndlovu Story.


Rosemary’s mother doesn’t smile much. She doesn’t have a semblance of a warm, welcoming aura, which is why I was petrified to go knocking at her door. I did it anyway.

Earlier that week, I had seen her testify in court in defence of Rosemary. I then decided to drive to Bushbuckridge — to the home where she had raised Rosemary, Joyce, Audrey and the other children. I’d started off at Joyce’s house. Just before I left, I expressed my fear at going to see the elderly woman who lived just a few doors up from her daughter’s own house, but Joyce convinced me it wouldn’t be that bad. I didn’t get a chance to knock. As soon as I stepped into the yard, Rosemary’s mother was walking out with a neighbour.

My first challenge was that of language. How would I tell this elderly woman what I was doing in her yard? She only spoke Xitsonga. I couldn’t speak a word of it. We looked at each other for a moment. There was an awkward silence. I then decided to wing it in my broken Sepedi — as close as I could get to communicating in a language that wasn’t isiZulu or English.

“Good afternoon, Gogo ... My name is Naledi ... I am from Johannesburg ... I am here to speak to you about Rosemary,” I said.

She looked me up and down as though she was sizing me up. Her eyes were cold as ice.

“Wait here,” she said.

She left me standing outside her front door as she walked the neighbour to another gate at the back of the house. They exchanged pleasantries and she gave the neighbour a handful of sweets. When she came back, my heart was beating out of my chest. I felt as though she could see it through my T-shirt.

“Yes, what did you say you wanted?” she asked gruffly.

“I am from Joburg. I was in court. I saw you in court during the week. I work for the newspapers, and I am writing a story on Rosemary. I wanted to come and speak to you about Rosemary ...”

“I said all I wanted to say on that day. You heard me, so what more do you want to hear?” she replied in Sepedi.

Things were going south very quickly.

“You said a lot of things in court, Ma, but I wanted to come and speak to you some more, to hear the things that you didn’t get to say in court. I know this is tough. I know it’s not easy and I am sorry. But I want to know Rosemary through your eyes, your experience,” I said.

“Come in,” she said after a long pause, slowly leading the way into the house through the back door.

I felt immensely relieved.

At least she hadn’t thrown boiling water over me, which is what I might have done had someone come to my house to ask me about my daughter who was accused of murdering six of my relatives and trying to kill me as well.

From what had transpired in court, it was clear that Rosemary’s mother still did not believe that her daughter had plotted to kill her. In fact, she seemingly didn’t believe her daughter was capable of any of the gruesome atrocities she was accused of.

It was the state’s case that Rosemary had also hired a would-be hitman, Lakhiwe Mkhize, to kill the elderly woman. Mkhize testified that he had been paid R2,600 to take out Rosemary’s mother. He described how, several months before, he and Rosemary had travelled to Bushbuckridge together, where Rosemary had pointed out her mother’s house. Rosemary wanted her killed and promised him R15,000 for the job. She then took a taxi back to Johannesburg.

According to their agreement, Mkhize was supposed to kill the old woman later that day. When he got to the house, he found her with a young child. This was the child of Rosemary’s late sister, Runny. Mkhize then told the court that he did not go ahead with the murder because he was conscience-stricken. Instead of killing her, he asked for water and left the house. He avoided Rosemary’s calls thereafter.

Police presented this airtight evidence to Maria Sophie Mushwana, but still she refused to believe it. It was as if she could not get her head around the idea of Rosemary, her special policewoman daughter, being a cold-hearted killer. She also refused to testify as a state witness about the fateful day when Mkhize came to her house. In fact, she denied ever having seen Mkhize at her house.

Instead, she chose to testify in her daughter’s defence on Thursday September 16 2021.

Back at Maria Sophie Mushwana’s house, my heart beat wildly as I was led through her front door. The photographer who had accompanied me now jumped out of the car, camera in hand, thinking this signalled that we had been given the go-ahead.

“What is he doing here with that thing? I don’t want pictures,” Maria Sophie said angrily.

The photographer quickly apologised and assured her we wouldn’t take any pictures without her permission. She then muttered that she had always been against having her picture taken.

We entered the lounge. The house was clean. There were a few dark-coloured couches, and a large coffee table took pride of place in the middle of the room. There was hardly any space to move around the furniture. A TV cabinet made of dark wood stood against the wall. The television was on. The image was grainy, as though the TV used an old or defunct aerial to receive the signal.

Except for a picture of an elephant against a blue background, there was nothing on the walls. The family’s surname is Ndlovu — which is vernacular for “elephant”. I figured that’s probably why the image of the huge grey mammal was there. I carefully manoeuvred myself around the furniture and took my place on a couch. The elderly woman took a seat on another, and the photographer sat down on a third.

It felt surreal. I was in disbelief. After all the time I’d spent watching Rosemary in the docks, and all the many months of research and travelling, here I was, sitting in the house where the famous killer cop had grown up — the same house in which her mother was to have been killed by Mkhize on her daughter’s instruction.

“What do you want?” Maria Sophie asked. Her sharp voice quickly snapped me back to the present.

I repeated the lines that I had rehearsed in my head: “Ma, I want to find out about who Rosemary is, besides the things we have seen on TV.” (But in all honesty, most importantly, I wanted to find out how Maria Sophie was doing.) 

“I know nothing about the things that Rosemary is accused of. I raised her all alone after her father died. I raised her with her siblings and taught them about church and God. I know nothing about the things she is accused of,” Rosemary’s mother said, folding her arms.

I had the feeling that she may have rehearsed her answer in the event that journalists like me came snooping. Maria Sophie fiddled with her bare feet, which were dry and cracked from walking in the veld and the unpaved yard.

After a long pause, she continued. “All I know is that when it comes to Brilliant, there is no way that Rosemary would have come to Bushbuckridge and not come here. Whenever she comes home, she tells me, and when she leaves, I accompany her to get public transport every single time, so I don’t know ...” Her voice trailed off. (Brilliant was, of course, Rosemary’s last victim and nephew, who was found dead in January 2018 in Dwarsloop — just a few kilometres from New Forest, where Rosemary’s mother lived.)

“OK,” I ventured. “But what do you have to say about the allegations that she tried to kill you? There’s evidence from one of the hitmen who said they came here, asked for water and decided that they could not kill you. But they were sent by Rosemary ...”

Before I could finish, she interrupted me.

“I know nothing about that. No-one has ever come here asking me for water. No-one enters this yard. Ever. I live a quiet life. I would remember if such a thing happened,” she said with finality, meaning the subject was closed.

“So, with all these tragedies that have been unfolding, the death of Audrey, Maurice and everyone else, who do you think is behind the murders?” I tried to press on.

“Where is the proof that Rosemary killed these people?” she snapped back.

“Show me the proof. Show me the pictures of the weapons used and maybe I will believe you. But right now, I don’t know about this,” she said, getting agitated and switching between Sepedi and Xitsonga.

Then she looked me straight in the eye. “Look, I don’t want to talk about this. It makes my heart extremely sore, so please stop asking me these questions.

“Are you a parent?”

Now I felt bad.

“Yes, I am, Ma. I have two children.”

“Are you married?” She had seamlessly taken back her power. Now I was the one in the hot seat.

“I was ... to a man from Soweto,” I replied.

“But where is home?”

The questions made me feel a bit uncomfortable, but at least she was easing up. I went with the flow

“I grew up in Witbank, but my parents are both from the East Rand — Daveyton and Wattville.”

“Oh, I know Daveyton very well,” the elderly woman said.

Some of Rosemary’s victims had also lived in Daveyton — a township on the East Rand in Johannesburg.

Siblings Zanele and her brother Willy Mayeni Mashaba had stayed there. Rosemary had been the last person to see either of them alive.

Rosemary’s brother, Director, also stayed in Daveyton.

While Director had initially been tipped to testify in Rosemary’s defence and came to court numerous times, he suddenly pulled out before he was called to the stand. I later learnt that though he had been prepared to speak in his sister’s defence, in the past he too had had some dubious near-death experiences shortly after being in contact with Rosemary.

In one incident, some of the screws, bolts and nuts in his vehicle had allegedly been loosened and he lost a wheel while driving — soon after he’d seen Rosemary.

Whether his car troubles were coincidental or part of a plan to kill him remained unknown.

By now, with Maria Sophie running the show, things had begun to ease between the two of us. Daveyton was the common thread. She let out a smile with a flash of brown teeth, then got up and scurried to her bedroom. She came back with a bag filled with documents. There were birth certificates, death certificates and school graduation pictures of her grandchild. It was from this pile of documents that she pulled out a copy of her late husband’s identity document.

“You see, he died in 1989,” she told me. “From there, I raised my children alone ...” I stared at the ID. I was somewhat shocked to realise that her husband had been 40 years her senior and in his 90s when he died.

She showed me the death certificate of her youngest daughter, Runny, who had died months after Rosemary’s arrest. According to the document, Runny was born in 1989, which meant Rosemary’s mother had been pregnant with her when she buried her husband.

“How did you survive?” I asked her, as we paged through her precious documents.

“I sold things — fruits and vegetables at the market,” she said proudly.

“Did you not see my garden outside? I have all sorts of things. Come and see.”

She got up and led me outside, where she proudly showed off her garden — from moringa trees to dried reeds, which she used to make straw mats.

The garden looked healthy and wholesome.

The photographer followed us outside. He seemed to be more in tune with things related to the spiritual world and connected to herbs and ancestry, all of which I knew nothing about.

He took one look at the garden and said to Maria Sophie: “I see the plants you have at the corners of your yard.”

Her eyes lit up.

“How do you know these things?” she asked, incredulously.

“I just do,” he replied.

He was referring to the aloes in the corners of the yard. He later told me that it’s believed that these plants protect the yard so that no evil can enter. Perhaps Rosemary’s mother was more protected than she thought — even from her own daughter.

Maria Sophie tried to change the topic as she took me back to a large moringa tree.

“Oh, I know moringa. My dad boils it and drinks it for health purposes,” I told her, trying also to divert the conversation from the aloes in case it made her uncomfortable.

“Really? Let me give you some,” she said.

Rosemary’s mother called for Runny’s child, who had been somewhere indoors when we arrived. The two lived together. The child, no older than eight, came running out with an empty shopping bag.

Rosemary’s mother filled the bag with moringa as well as other plants and delicacies from her garden.

“Where is the crocodile’s tooth?” the photographer asked her during a silent moment.

The question startled Maria Sophie. Apparently, the crocodile’s tooth is very rare, and only those who are powerful and in the know about muti and herbs would have knowledge of its properties.

“You are silly. You’re being naughty,” Rosemary’s mother said, letting out a hoarse laugh.

We went back to picking plants in her yard.

“So, Ma, do you miss Rosemary?” I asked, trying to inch back to the reason I was there.

“Is that a question? I miss her a lot,” said the elderly woman. Her eyes clouded over. After filling bags and buckets with all sorts of plants, she walked us to the gate. I wasn’t unhappy about how the meeting had gone, but Rosemary’s mother had kept her guard up, so I remained in the dark about many of the things I had wanted to ask her.