Durban — Held hostage at gunpoint with two young grandchildren for hours in her home was “the worst day” of a Durban grandmother’s life, but she got some relief when the perpetrator received a lengthy prison sentence last week.
Zakhele Khambule, 46, who held Nontuthuzelo Cele and her grandchildren prisoner in Umbumbulu in February 2022, was jailed for an effective 22 years for the crimes he committed.
Khambule was part of a gang of robbers who struck at the Camperdown Pep store and fled the scene on the day in question.
When their getaway vehicle crashed, Khambule’s co-accused, Mfaniseni Mbatha, 45, was arrested near the crash scene, with two bags loaded with cellphones.
Mbatha was jailed for an effective 18 years’ imprisonment for his crimes.
Khambule ran away with Magma security officers and police officers from various units trailing him.
He ran into Cele’s home armed with a semi-automatic pistol, fired at law enforcement officials through a bathroom window and threatened to kill her and the children if they did not comply with his instructions.
Three hours later he eventually dropped his gun after a lengthy engagement with a hostage negotiator from the SAPS tactical response unit.
Both robbers were convicted and sentenced by Durban Regional Court by magistrate Sophie Reddy.
Advocate Kuveshni Pillay represented the State. Khambule faced charges of robbery with aggravating circumstances, kidnapping, illegal possession of a firearm and ammunition and various attempted murder charges for firing at law enforcement officials.
Mbatha was charged with robbery and attempted murder.
They both pleaded not guilty.
Reddy convicted both and sentenced Khambule and Mbatha to a total of 44 and 27 years’ respectively.
She ruled that the six counts of attempted murder be treated as one and some of the sentences run concurrently, leading to effective jail time of 22 and 18 years.
In denying the allegations, Khambule’s version was that he noticed a helicopter circling and ran into Cele’s home to protect them.
Mbatha said the arresting officers framed him and that he overheard them talk about another man arrested about 10 kilometres away.
Reddy said that this was Mbatha’s attempt to distance himself from Khambule, yet he was seen fleeing from the getaway vehicle and the two bags were found near him at the time of his arrest.
“It was ludicrous to suggest that so many policemen and security officers had colluded against the accused,” said Reddy.
Apart from Magma officers, various police officers and members of the SAPS’s air wing, K-9 unit and special task force units were in attendance.
Reddy said both robbers were poor witnesses and their evidence was “fraught with material inconsistencies and significant improbabilities”.
“The accused attempted to obfuscate obvious issues.
“Khambule’s most crippling nemesis was Cele. She was an independent witness and her evidence was the most damning. She was clear he had a firearm and threatened them if they tried to escape.
“She was terrified and she prayed.”
Reddy said Cele’s evidence corroborated other witnesses’ testimony. The magistrate regarded the evidence from seven State witnesses as a “cogent and a clear portrayal of events”.
Cele said she was “happy with the sentence” but was wary of how criminal networks worked and the bullet holes that remained in the walls of her home were a constant reminder of her ordeal.
Before Khambule barged in, she was feeding her grandchildren.
“I saw a man jump over the gate and enter the yard. He pointed a gun and instructed us to get in the house.”
Cele said Khambule threatened to die with everyone inside.
He took hold of her granddaughter, pointed the gun at her, and closed all the windows and curtains.
The other child cried uncontrollably while Cele clasped her hands and prayed fervently. Even when Khambule blocked her mouth, it didn’t stop her praying.
She said Khambule was constantly on his phone, informing family and friends about events and when he surveyed the activity outside, he did so holding up a child.
“He took out about R500 and demanded I give it to his church as an offering so that they would pray for him after his death, but I refused.
“He then changed his mind and said I should keep the money and his cellphone. I didn’t want it.”
She said his family begged him to surrender and set them free and when he threatened to commit suicide she begged him not to.
He eventually surrendered himself to police.
Shaheen Suleiman, the owner of Magma, who also went in pursuit of the gang, praised his team’s collaboration with the SAPS.