Hillary Gardee murder: Lawyers demand arrests in prison cellphone saga

Hillary Gardee murder accused Philemon Lukhele. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)

Hillary Gardee murder accused Philemon Lukhele. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Aug 5, 2022


Tshwarelo Hunter Mogakane

Pretoria - Lawyers for Godrich Gardee have given the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) 14 days to respond to their demand that they investigate police involvement in the arrest of one of Hillary Gardee’s murder suspects for having illegal access to a cellphone.

In May, the Department of Correctional Services transferred Philemon Lukhele, 47, to a section of the Barberton Maximum prison following the discovery of the illegal telecommunication device.

No one, except Lukhele, has been arrested for the cellphone saga. A prison official was simply suspended.

This week, Gardee claimed that ­Africa’s last absolute monarch, Eswatini’s King Mswati III, had a hand in his daughter’s murder in retaliation for EFF protests that resulted in the shutdown of four borders linking South Africa and the neighbouring country.

Gardee is head of the party’s international relations cluster.

Gardee alleged that following the April protests, King Mswati III dispatched spies to South Africa to kidnap, rape and murder his daughter.

Although the eSwatini government has rejected the allegations, Gardee has instructed his lawyers to get to the bottom of the matter.

In a letter to Ipid, Gardee’s lawyer Makhakheni Mashele said police had arrested Lukhele over the cellphone saga following a tip-off from the politician’s sources.

“On or about May 23, our client received text messages from (the police) stating that a pre-dawn raid on the prison cells on the strength of the information from our client (resulted in) accused number two being found in possession of a cellphone fitted with a SIM card and charger.

“On or about May 25, a case docket was registered by the head of correctional services, Nelspruit. The alleged smuggler, an official in the Correctional Services, has since been suspended. The buyer of the contraband phone who handed it to the alleged smuggler is known to SAPS Nelspruit.

“The possessor and user of the contraband cellphone inside the prison cell is known to SAPS Nelspruit and the suspect is accused number two in the murder case referred to,” said Mashele.

Following Lukhele’s arrest in connection with Hillary Gardee’s brutal murder, the ANC in Mpumalanga dismissed the former Pudemo (the largest opposition party in eSwatini) leader from the governing party, stating that he fraudulently joined the party while being a citizen of eSwatini. Gardee’s lawyers said it was suspicious that the police did not bother to find out who Lukhele was communicating with when he made illegal calls from prison.

“Notwithstanding the long period since the crime was reported, the SAPS have not arraigned the three suspects before a magistrate’s court. In the circumstances, we are instructed to demand, as we hereby do, that Ipid investigate the conduct of the police on their failure to swiftly bring before court the suspects, as such conduct invites unnecessary impressions and may lead to smuggling of guns into the cells, as there are evidently no consequences.

“We are further instructed to demand from the provincial police commissioner (Daphney Manamela) as we hereby do, that the investigating officer in this case arraign the suspects before court soonest, failing which we are directed to commence court processes to compel arrest,” said Mashele.

Meanwhile, accused number 1 in the matter, Sipho Mkhatshwa, 39, was denied bail when he appeared in the Nelspruit Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday.

The court accepted arguments from the State that there was potential for interference with witnesses and a possibility that he might flee to Eswatini, where he has relatives.

Hillary went missing in April, causing a widespread manhunt for her abductors.

Family members and police officers were alerted to her abduction after her adopted 3-year-old daughter told them that her mother was fighting.

Her body was discovered outside a plantation a mere 35 minutes away from her home in Mbombela.

Ipid spokesperson Lizzy Suping was unable to confirm whether they had received the letter from Gardee’s lawyers.

Provincial police spokesperson Brigadier Selvy Mohlala was also unavailable for comment.

Pretoria News