Uber driver arrested for Durban B&B owner's death is denied bail

03 October 2023 - 20:06 By MFUNDO MKHIZE
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Beechwood Bed and Breakfast owner Jackie Needham was strangled by three men who robbed her in August last year.
Beechwood Bed and Breakfast owner Jackie Needham was strangled by three men who robbed her in August last year.
Image: Beechwood B&B

An Uber driver who is charged alongside two accomplices for murdering a Durban bed and breakfast owner last year telephoned his victim to get onto the Umbilo property.

This emerged during a bail application in the Durban magistrate’s court on Tuesday in which Manelisi Jali, 25, applied for bail. Jali and two co-accused, Mdumiseni Gumede and Bernard Langa, are charged with premeditated murder and robbery of a 70-year-old woman, Jackie Needham, on August 10 last year.

Jali, who was arrested during a covert intelligence operation together with the members of the eThekwini district trio crime tracing team in Mayville last year, had previously abandoned his bid for bail.

However, on Tuesday he made an about-turn, opting to mount a bail plea. Jali's Legal Aid attorney, Ntando Cele, told the court his client did not have any previous or pending cases.

“Jali also has a five-year-old child who is solely dependent on him. He would also not evade trial as he has no passport,” said Cele.

However, state prosecutor Calvin Govender opposed bail.

Needham was last seen by her employees on August 10 last year around 6pm. They found her bedroom in a mess, the safe was missing from a wall as were her bag, cellphones and car. 

A postmortem revealed she had been strangled and had multiple injuries on her body.

Employees later found her body, wrapped in a white sheet, in a vacant room.

Her white KIA sedan was found abandoned in the uMkhumbane area of Cato Manor.

Govender relied on an affidavit from investigating officer Sgt Nkosikhona Phetha, who is also attached to the eThekwini district trio crime task team, to support his objection to bail.

“It must be taken into account that the accused has serious disregard for the law as can be seen from the circumstances surrounding the case. He knew exactly what he was doing but had a blatant disregard for human life or the consequences of his actions,” said Govender.

He said it appeared from video footage that one of the accused made a call, the gates of the bed and breakfast open remotely and two men entered the premises.

A short while later, a third man entered.

Phetha’s affidavit reveals that Jali’s cellphone was used to make a call to Needham who then opened the gates.

Video footage taken at the B&B and later near where the car was recovered revealed a silver grey Toyota Etios sedan, which Jali reported missing during a “hijacking” near the crime scene.

Jali was also captured on CCTV footage drawing money using Needham’s bank cards. The pair of shorts he was using at the time of drawing money was recovered at the accused's home. 

Govender said Needham was killed during Women’s month, highlighting the disregard Jali had for the rights of women.

“Jali was overcome with greed so that human life and the impact he had on the innocent victim meant nothing. We cannot allow people like the accused to roam the streets,” said Govender.

Magistrate Sicelo Zuma said there were no exceptional reasons to release Jali on bail.

Needham's brother, Oscar Swanlund, said he was happy Jali had been denied bail.

“I supplied the footage to the police. I know what was going on from the beginning. Once I handed over the footage I left it to the police and they have done a fantastic job while working with the private investigator,” said Swanlund.

Sharing Oscar's sentiments was Needham's boyfriend, Collin Reed.

“It's undeniable that Jali was there when the matter was committed. He was part of the murder. They placed him there. I am happy that the magistrate has not taken heed of his assertion that he is a first offender. He committed a serious offence so he is a threat to society,” said Reed.

He said Needham's death had left a deep void in his life.

“Jackie was loving and giving. You can ask her staff. At times we would drive with her through large parts of Mayville and Folweni where we would give,” said Needham. She was eight years his senior.

He said her pleasant disposition had drawn her to people, mostly underprivileged and who would fall over themselves to greet her.

The matter has been adjourned to October 23, allowing co-accused Langa to deal with pending matters in the Newcastle magisterial district.

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