How cops bungled Senzo Meyiwa murder case
Three months of police blunders, a lack of crime-intelligence gathering and internal power struggles have left police clueless in the investigation into the murder of former Bafana Bafana captain Senzo Meyiwa.
Assurances by top cops more than a month ago that they were close to cracking the case now seem to have been a poor attempt to cover up the highly specialised task team's failure to make a breakthrough.
Police are saying very little about the matter, but the Sunday Times has established that hapless investigators are resorting to guesswork.
"There is no progress in this case. It's a mess," said an officer with knowledge of the case.
This week, the docket was returned to the Vosloorus detectives initially assigned to the case.
Several senior police officers with knowledge of the investigation said it was bungled from the moment Vosloorus police officers arrived at the house of the mother of Meyiwa's girlfriend Kelly Khumalo on the night of October 26.
Meyiwa was gunned down in Vosloorus, east of Johannesburg, in the presence of Khumalo, her mother, her sister Zandi, Zandi's boyfriend Longwe Twala, Meyiwa's friends Mthokozisi Twala and Tumelo Madlala and Khumalo's four-year-old son Christian.
Meyiwa's father, Sam Meyiwa, said this week he was "concerned" that his son's killer had not been brought to book.
He said investigators had visited the family in Umlazi, south of Durban, about two weeks ago, assuring them that the investigation was still progressing.
"They told us that they don't want to make the same mistake they did by arresting the wrong person," he said.
But this was not enough for him.
"Yes, Senzo was a famous person. An arrest should have been made. I think it has taken a very long time."
The grieving father (pictured below), who was sitting in his car outside the home when the Sunday Times arrived there, said he had been thinking about his son .
"I was thinking about him but we still don't want to talk about it. We're not ready to talk about it for now. Maybe next time."
Lack of Action
The Sunday Times can reveal that factors contributing to the lack of progress include:
- No gunpowder residue tests were done on the people who were present in the house at the time of the murder. This is standard procedure when attending a crime scene;
- Police failed to confiscate two cellphones belonging to Mthokozisi Twala;
- Local detectives who were sidelined in favour of their provincial and national colleagues are reluctant to assist with the investigation;
- Police arrested the wrong suspects as they seemingly caved in to public and political pressure to make a breakthrough before Meyiwa's burial; and
- Senior police officers disagreed on the investigative tactics required to make a quick breakthrough and the communication strategy needed to complement it.
Most telling is that, according to police systems, there was no movement of the docket between November 11 last year and Tuesday this week.
Since November 11, the day on which the original suspect, Zamokuhle Mbatha, was released, the docket has remained dormant with a Major JC Sibiya.
Mbatha was arrested for the murder but released due to contradictory eyewitness statements.
The lack of action on the docket is despite Gauteng provincial commissioner Lieutenant-General Lesetja Mothiba (pictured above) stating on December 18 that the case was a priority and that police were "certain there will be a breakthrough soon".
On Tuesday, the docket was sent back to the provincial team, but by late Friday no one had acknowledged receipt of it.
A senior detective - not involved in this case - said it was unusual for the docket to be returned to Vosloorus.
"We all know that dockets get elevated, for example if they could form part of bigger investigations. When a docket goes to national it suggests that major resources would be allocated to the case.
"In this case, it sounds as if the bigwigs had given up, possibly because they were unable to make progress."
National police spokesman Lieutenant-General Solomon Makgale declined to answer detailed questions and was only prepared to say that the investigation was "going very well".
"The team is doing everything possible to ensure that those who killed Senzo are brought to book," he said. "At the right time, when we have reached a point we believe it is necessary to update the nation, we will most certainly do so."
One of the people who was inside the house at the time of the shooting said police had also visited him two weeks ago to update him on the investigation and to inform him that they would be contacting other witnesses.
"Police are working very hard but I can't divulge anything about the investigation because we have been advised by investigators not to talk to the media," he said.
He said he had gone for counselling after Meyiwa's murder but had stopped "because I don't want to talk about it".
"I was there when Senzo was killed. All I want is the truth."
The failure to make any arrests has also blighted Mbatha's life. He cannot escape the glares from people who label him "that killer", even though police told him they did not have enough evidence against him. He said police had not made contact with him since his release on November 11.
Mbatha, 27, fled to his family in KwaZulu-Natal after his release, but returned to Johannesburg this month in search of a job.
He said he believed his life would return to normal only when the real killers of "my captain" are arrested.
A senior police officer, who was briefed by officers involved in the initial stages of the case, said the national task team would battle to make a breakthrough because of the initial bungling.
"They failed to take some of the cellphones for examination and later sidelined local detectives who know the area and the possible informers. They messed up the case when they started arresting every Tom, Dick and Harry and when they started doing guesswork," the senior officer said.
Although he thought the case was "dead", the officer said it could still be resuscitated. "They are supposed to go back to square one, reconstruct the scene, ask all the people who were there what they saw, which part of the room they were seated in, and take it from there."
Claims that the police had failed to confiscate Mthokozisi Twala's cellphone were first made by Khumalo, but not published, in an exclusive interview with Sunday Times reporters at the end of October, a few days after Meyiwa's death.
"When we were in the house, Mthokozisi was on the phone going up and down to answer his phone from outside. He had two phones, sir. I don't know what his words were to the police but he never gave his phones to the police. When we asked him, he said 'You know me mos, I can't be giving away my phones'," Khumalo said.
On Friday, Mthokozisi Twala again declined to comment.
"I can't say anything bro. Please, no comment," he said.
Step by step down a cul-de-sac leading nowhere
- Sunday October 26: Senzo Meyiwa is shot dead at around 8pm in Vosloorus, east of Johannesburg, after having supper at the home of Kelly Khumalo's mother.
- Monday October 27: National police commissioner Riah Phiyega publicly announces that a multi-disciplinary police task team has been set up. Phiyega reveals that Meyiwa was shot in the back during a scuffle.
- Tuesday October 28: Police release 3D Identikits of two suspects alleged to have been involved in Meyiwa's shooting.
- Wednesday October 29: Two men are questioned in KwaNongoma, northern KwaZulu-Natal, in connection with the case. They are cleared.
- Thursday October 30: Police arrest Zamokuhle Mbatha, a Vosloorus resident, after he was allegedly identified by a witness during an identity parade.
- Saturday November 1: Meyiwa is buried at the Heroes' Acre cemetery in Chesterville, KwaZulu-Natal.
- Tuesday November 11: Charges against Mbatha are provisionally withdrawn when he appears at the Boksburg Magistrate's Court after two weeks in custody.
- Friday November 30: Press reports state that police are investigating claims that Meyiwa may have known his killer.
- Monday December 1: Brigadier Neville Malila, then Gauteng police spokesman, says there is nothing further to report but that the investigation is continuing.
- Thursday December 18: Gauteng police commissioner Lieutenant-General Lesetja Mothiba tells a media briefing that police have no solid leads to make an arrest but that they hope to make one soon.