By Mashudu Netsianda
Six cigarette smugglers teamed up and allegedly threw a member of a rival group into the crocodile-infested Limpopo River resulting in him being devoured by the deadly reptiles, a High Court judge has heard.
Justice Maxwell Takuva heard this when Lungisani Ndhlera (24), a member of the syndicate that allegedly threw Leeroy Mhlanga into the river, approached the Bulawayo High Court seeking bail.
Ndhlera and the other five suspects, who are still at large, allegedly threw Mhlanga into the river and attacked him with stones until he drowned before crocodiles feasted on him two years ago.
Justice Takuva dismissed Ndhlera’s application for bail, saying there was no guarantee that if granted he would not abscond due to the gravity of the offence.
“While it’s true that the presumption of innocence operates in favour of the applicant, there is likelihood from the totality of the circumstances that the applicant if released on bail will not stand trial,” said the judge.
Justice Takuva said the fact that Ndhlera was of no fixed abode and stayed in the bush carrying out illegal activities made him a flight risk.
He said the offence occurred along the Limpopo River which demarcates Zimbabwe and South Africa.
“The applicant lived and worked in the bush carrying out illegal activities. Quite clearly from the facts, the offence arose from the illegal activities applicant and his cronies were engaged in and after committing the offence they ran away from Beitbridge.
“I’m satisfied that there are compelling reasons in this case justifying applicant’s continued detention. I find therefore that it is in the interests of justice that the applicant be detained in custody pending trial, and in the result, the application is dismissed,” ruled Justice Takuva.
In his application through his lawyers Moyo and Nyoni Legal Practitioners, Ndhlera, argued that his admission to bail was unlikely to prejudice the interests of justice.
He had also undertaken to reside at his father’s homestead in Mberengwa as well as not interfere with State witnesses.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) which was cited as the respondent, opposed bail, arguing that there was a prima facie case against Ndhlera.
“There are witnesses who saw the applicant committing the offence together with his accomplices. The applicant himself admits being at the scene of the crime although he denies participating in its commission and furthermore he does not deny that the State witnesses are well known to him,” said Mr Whisper Mabaudhi from the NPA.
The court heard that on March 31 in 2014, Mhlanga and his team smuggled boxes of cigarettes into South Africa.
They were allegedly robbed of the contraband by thugs allegedly working in cahoots with South African soldiers.
The following day Mhlanga mobilised a group of smugglers and they crossed back to South Africa intending to fight the South African soldiers as well as the thugs to recover their stolen cigarettes.
The mission was, however, unsuccessful and upon their return, Mhlanga and his group had a heated argument with Ndhlera and his accomplices for refusing to assist them recover their stolen cigarettes.
The dispute resulted in Ndhlera and his gang assaulting Mhlanga before pushing him into the Limpopo River. They threw stones at him until he drowned and he was later eaten by crocodiles. The Chronicle