Murder for hire

PE hit victims’ families desperate for answers

PREMIUM


The murders of two men in January sparked a series of killings which exposed the deadly criminal underworld operating in Nelson Mandela Bay.
On the night of January 28, Nkululeko Gcakasi went to drop off dog food at his mother’s house in Port Elizabeth’s New Brighton township.
Gcakasi, 44, then left to visit his girlfriend a few blocks away – but did not make it.
About 20 minutes later, his mother, Thembakazi, heard screams and shouting that her son was lying in the road.
“I just ran to see what was going on. I could not believe it was him,” she said.
Gcakasi was shot several times in Tshiwula Street at about 7pm.
He was the second small businessman murdered in the city that day.
Six hours earlier, Baba Ningi, one of the leading personalities in the small construction business, was shot dead while leaving a popular butchery in Zwide.
On the night of January 28, Nkululeko Gcakasi went to drop off dog food at his mother’s house in Port Elizabeth’s New Brighton township.
Gcakasi, 44, then left to visit his girlfriend a few blocks away – but did not make it.
About 20 minutes later, his mother, Thembakazi, heard screams and shouting that her son was lying in the road.
“I just ran to see what was going on. I could not believe it was him,” she said.
Gcakasi was shot several times in Tshiwula Street at about 7pm.
He was the second small businessman murdered in the city that day.
Six hours earlier, Baba Ningi, 48, one of the leading personalities in the small construction business, was shot dead while leaving a butchery in Zwide.
The murder of the two men would spark a series of killings which exposed the deadly criminal underworld operating in Nelson Mandela Bay.
Over nine weeks between January and March, at least 22 people have been killed in targeted fashion in one of the bloodiest bursts of violence in the Bay’s townships.
Police believe the earlier killings were sparked by a clash between small business owners over a R21m municipal drain-cleaning deal.
Others, police insiders say, were revenge killings, while the rest were unrelated witness murders, gang wars and other targeted hits.
Over the last two weeks, a Herald team spoke to the families of some of those murdered who are desperate for answers.
“I want to know who killed my son and they must explain why,” an emotional Thembakazi said.
She demanded justice for the cold-blooded murder of her son.
“We have no tears left. I just want justice. I want peace,” she said.
Admitting that Gcakasi was no saint, she said: “I knew my son had been a criminal.
“But he was reformed after he got out of prison in 2013. Prison changed him.
“All the business people around New Brighton turned to him to fight crime.”
Thembakazi said that while he had been raised in a good home, drugs had led him to a life of crime in his earlier years.
“I was so happy when he called me one day to say he was coming back home. “He was a changed man.” She said Gcakasi had started two businesses, Nubrightin Development Projects NPC and Sina and Nkuza Holdings.
His big break came when he was appointed to take part in the R21m drain-cleaning project, which may have been the reason he was murdered.
Others killed in the suspected hits were cleaners, criminals, construction workers, property managers, small business owners and taxi drivers.
The youngest victim of the suspected hits was a sevenmonth-old girl, Asesakhe, who was killed alongside her father, Siyabulela Vena, 40, on February 20 inside their Mabaso Street home in Soweto-on-Sea.
Asesakhe’s mother, Nosimphiwe Madonci, 31, miraculously survived the attack, even though she had been in the bed with the baby and Vena.
“Two gunmen forced the bedroom door open.
“They pulled out a firearm and pointed it at my boyfriend,” she said, wiping tears from her face.
“They then started to shoot randomly. I covered my face with the duvet.”
The couple’s seven-year-old son, who had been sleeping in another bed in the same room, was also unharmed.
“After the shooting, I took my baby child and ran outside,” Madonci said.
“I did not know that she was already dead.”
Neighbours in the street had to tell her that Asesakhe had died. “It was then that I realised my baby girl was also struck.
“I cried profusely. I am still in pain.
“Only time can heal me now,” she said.
The oldest victim was Zola Ndamase, 54, who was shot dead on March 22 inside his house in Khumbani Street, also in Soweto-on-Sea.
Ndamase’s wife, Buyiswa, 50, who was lying in bed in a room next to the one where her husband was shot, recalled how she had held her 24-yearold daughter tightly as the sound of gunfire echoed in the small house at about 8.45pm.
“All the lights were off. We just saw the flashes,” she said. “We were terrified.
“We thought they would come for us.”
But just as suddenly as the gunfire started, it ended.
“We heard footsteps pass our room and then the outside gate opened,” Buyiswa said.
A few minutes later, her daughter went to look and found her bloodied father on his bed.
“She just screamed and screamed,” Buyiswa said.
“Her father’s pillow and bedding was covered in blood.”
Her husband had run a small construction company.
“He did not have enemies. I don’t know why this happened,” she said.
“We want to know who did this.”
The murder methods have been particularly violent, with the victims often shot repeatedly in broad daylight.
Mkhuseli Yani, 40, was shot dead at a tavern in Chalumna Street, Motherwell, on March 2.
His murder is believed to be linked to the ongoing SMME conflicts in the Bay, according to police.
Tango Nqini, 40, and Lonwabo Neti, 35, have been arrested for his murder – the only arrests, so far, in all the suspected hits.
Yani’s mother, who did not want to be named, wiped away tears as she described the loss of a second child.
Sitting in her modest Motherwell home, shaking uncontrollably, she said: “This is the second child I have lost.
“My first child was killed [in a car accident] on the M17 [Motherwell to Kwazakhele road] in 2009.
“Now my eldest son has also being taken.”
Her only surviving child is a daughter, who lives in the Transkei.
Yani’s mother said that because of the killings, she did not want her daughter coming back to the city.
“My son was not involved in the SMMEs or drain-cleaning project,” she said.
But he had worked as a machine operator who was trying to start his own business.
“I am scared they will come for me,” the woman said.
“I don’t know why they shot my son. They might want to target me.”
Of the 22 suspected hits, six took place in New Brighton – with four of them in Tshiwula Street.Themba Makalima, 25, and Sabelo Ngquphe, 30, were gunned down on February 1 inside a small shop in Tshiwula Street.A relative of Ngquphe, who also did not want to be named, said he loved playing soccer and hanging out with friends.“Sabelo used to help his friend sell vegetables at the corner shop where he was shot.“We can’t say any more as we could be in trouble.”About 300m down the road, where Makalima lived, his family is struggling to survive.“He was the breadwinner of the family,” one of his brothers, who asked not to be named, said.“Our parents died many years ago and he looked after all of us.”This included four siblings – three brothers and a sister.“We don’t know what we will do. We miss him.”The fourth victim shot dead in Tshiwula Street, on February 3, was Vuyani Ndike, 40.Also in New Brighton, Phumlani Mqhayisa, 38, believes the death of his brother, Sithethokuhle, 26 – who was shot dead in Avenue A on March 11 – has already been avenged.He said two men had come to their house and shot dead his brother.A suspect was arrested but released later.Weeks later, the suspect was set alight by the community.“We don’t know why this happened but it is a form of justice,” Mqhayisa said.“I am happy – but also not happy. It is good for the family but not humanity.“All of this stuff should just not happen.”On March 12, Lolwethu Mbombo, 23, died while trying to crawl into a yard after he was shot at close range in Buyambo Street, Kwazakhele.At his house, just around the corner from where he was shot, a group of relatives gathered to finalise his burial.An uncle from Cape Town, who refused to give his name, said he had come to the city to help the family.“No-one was actually interested in the funeral. He was a very naughty boy.”Pointing to the house, the man said: “Lolwethu stole everything from this house.“Taps, windows, doors and even the garden fence, he stripped the house.”He said the family had not kept any pictures of Lolwethu.“He stole for a living. He stole from everyone.”Meanwhile, the sister of Mbuzeli Ngalo, 47, who was killed in his house in Magxaki Street, Kwazakhele, on March 22, claimed her brother was an honest man who was at the wrong place at the wrong time.“He got into trouble a few years ago when his taxi was used for a robbery,” she said.“These guys hired him to drive a vehicle but he never knew what they had planned.”Shortly after the robbery, everyone was arrested.“My brother became a state witness and the case was due to start soon.

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