By Mashudu Netsianda
The trial of four of six suspected cigarette smugglers, who teamed up and allegedly forced a member of a rival group to jump into the flooded Limpopo River where he drowned, kicked off at the High Court yesterday.
Isufu Banda, Brian Mhike, Lungisani Ndhlera and Isheunesu Ndhlera appeared before Bulawayo High Court judge Justice Maxwell Takuva facing a murder charge.
The other two suspects, Tafara Hove and Pardon Machekeche are still at large.
The sextet was part of a group that allegedly stoned Leeroy Mhlanga and forced him to throw himself into the river three years ago.
Prosecuting, Mr Whisper Mabaudhi said on April 3 in 2014 at around 11.30AM, Mhlanga, a ring leader of a smuggling syndicate, was at Museche illegal crossing point along the Limpopo River with other smugglers, among them the accused persons.
The court heard that a misunderstanding ensued between the deceased and Isheunesu, a ring leader of a rival group.
The dispute was over the refusal by Isheunesu’s group to join Mhlanga’s group to the South African side where they intended to attack a group of thugs which had robbed them of boxes of cigarettes, which they had smuggled into the neighbouring country.
The thugs allegedly worked in cahoots with South African soldiers operating along the Limpopo River.
“Mhlanga and one Thompson Mbambo who is still at large assaulted Isheunesu before stabbing him with a knife once above his left eye,” said Mr Mabaudhi.
The court heard that Isheunesu mobilised the other five accused persons to attack Mhlanga.
They armed themselves with stones and charged towards Mhlanga.
“Mhlanga tried to escape as they attacked him with stones and in the process he dived into the crocodile-infested Limpopo River,” said Mr Mabaudhi.
The accused persons relentlessly threw stones at Mhlanga until he drowned.
His body was found floating in the river a few days later.
The four accused persons fled to Mberengwa where they were arrested.
One of the state witnesses, Mr Wellington Makumbe, in his testimony exonerated Isheunesu from the crime, saying he did not pursue Mhlanga as he remained nursing his injury following the attack.
Mr Makumbe said the accused persons attacked Mhlanga with stones after he threw himself into the river.
He assisted police in identifying the body of the deceased soon after it was retrieved and it had multiple injuries.
The trial continues today. The Chronicle