Photo puts doubt on claim about availability of phones in prison
A photograph posted on Facebook a year ago has come back to bite members of an alleged hit squad, who insisted throughout their trial that it was near impossible to smuggle cellphones into prison – and it could therefore not have been their numbers linking them to the cold-blooded execution of a state witness.
The picture of Mawethu “Webber” Khaka, 29, holding a bottle of vodka in prison, was presented to the Port Elizabeth High Court yesterday, but it was the cellphone in his cellmate’s hand that had state advocate Marius Stander smiling confidently as he closed his case.
Ndumiso “Twenty” Booi, 24, of New Brighton, Mzolimo Makisi, 33, of Motherwell, and Khaka, of Soweto-on-Sea, opted not to testify, prompting the defence to rest without presenting any evidence.
The men’s lawyers said they would instead present argument before judgment today.
The three men are accused of conspiring to kill a victim in a hijacking case after she pointed out Booi in a lineup as the alleged perpetrator. But on June 12 2013, just two days before Zanele Jonga, 32, was due to testify against him, she was executed by two men outside her Motherwell workplace.
Through meticulous cellphone tower plotting, the state concluded that Booi had organised the hit from his St Albans Prison cell.
Judge Dayalin Chetty heard that Booi had allegedly contacted his girlfriend, Thandeka Mange, 28, of Kwazakhele, who then put him in contact with Makisi and Khaka.
Cellphone expert Krishnan Pillay said Makisi and Khaka’s cellphones had been picked up in the Motherwell area at the time of the shooting.
The men allegedly walked up to Jonga, who was sitting in a car outside a doctor’s surgery, and opened fire.
Prior to that, and in an alleged attempt to determine her whereabouts, Jonga was phoned from Mange’s Newton Park office landline.
In October 2013, after Mange was questioned by the police in connection with her suspected involvement, she, too, was executed.
Police formed a task team to investigate Booi, Makisi and Khaka, who they believe are part of a bigger hit squad, after the bodies of several state witnesses were found dumped in bushy areas on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth between 2012 and 2013.
Police say most of these hits were organised from prison and at least 40 witnesses were killed.
Advocate Richard Crompton, for Booi, earlier told the court it was impossible for prisoners to smuggle cellphones into prison as they were strip-searched each time they entered and exited the prison to attend court.
But Warrant Officer Shane Bosch, of the Hawks, said yesterday he had spent much of Wednesday night perusing Khaka’s Facebook account.
“[Khaka] does not have any security settings on his account, so I could see all his posts and access his friends’ photographs,” Bosch said.
That was when he had come across a photograph of Khaka in prison, posted by a friend last year.
In Khaka’s hand is a bottle of vodka, while a fellow St Albans inmate is holding what appears to be a Blackberry cellphone.
Khaka’s defence attorney, Zolile Ngqeza, argued that the photograph could have been doctored.
“You can’t say for sure where the photograph was taken or who took it,” Ngqeza said.
Bosch retorted that he was familiar with the prison and it could clearly be seen where the photograph had been snapped.
Captain Rassie Erasmus, of the SA Police Service’s explosives unit, said he had confiscated a cellphone and a 9mm pistol from Makiki when he arrested him on June 25 2013 in connection with a robbery at a jewellery store near Pier 14.
Constable Dwayne Francis, of the Cyber Crime Unit in East London, said he had managed to extract the contacts listed on the phone and to retrieve the numbers saved under the names of “Webber” and “Twenty”.
The same numbers were used later to conduct the cellphone plotting.
Closing argument will be heard today.