Mbabane: Incarcerated businessman Sipho Shongwe had resigned to his fate even before presiding judge Nkosinathi Maseko could make his pronouncement on the ‘guilty’ verdict.
The former Matsapha United Football Club boss was found guilty of the murder of his fellow football administrator and businessman Victor Gamedze, who was gunned down at Ezulwini in January 2018.
Shongwe’s vocal reaction halfway through the judgment, during the lunch hour break, gave the indication that he came to court prepared for the worst.
“You have defeated me already, Nxumalo,” he remarked as he exchanged pleasantries with the prosecution’s Senior Crown Counsel Macebo Nxumalo. He uttered the statement with his head slightly tilted towards his back, a gesture which suggested that the former football administrator and businessman had accepted defeat. At that moment his demeanour expressed worry and fear, no wonder his eyes slid closed a bit before he turned towards his attorney Lucky Howe who approached to give his client a few words of comfort.
Shongwe’s reaction at the time might have been triggered by several comments made by the presiding judge shortly before he pressed the pause button. Judge Maseko had been recapping the evidence of witnesses who were paraded by the prosecution, laying the foundation for his ultimate decision. Five years of untangling the web around the shady dealings of the underworld which formed the basis of the gruesome murder of Gamedze were now down to a few hours of court time.
As Shongwe sat down inside the wooden dock, the judge made remarks which had somehow given a slight clue about how the judgment would turn out.
He said: “The bulk of the evidence which against the accused (Shongwe) has not been discredited by the defence during cross-examination.”
The judge was referring to the testimonies of South African nationals Mbuso ‘Ncaza’ Nkosi and Siphiwe ‘Tata’ Ngubane, who were brought to the country to give evidence as accomplice witnesses. He recalled that the pair’s testimonies corroborated the evidence of other witnesses like Sifiso Hlophe who had told the court that in the wee hours of January 15, the day which followed Gamedze’s shooting, he had received a call from one of the suspected killers Sandile ‘Dzodzo’ Zikalala requesting him to come and collect him at a fuel station situated around Mhlambanyatsi. Hlophe had identified himself as a tenant of Zikalala, who had accompanied Shongwe to Johannesburg during the early planning stages of the hit. The judge noted that Hlophe’s evidence corroborated the SA duo’s testimonies in as far as the route taken by the getaway car, a Toyota Yaris, subsequent to Gamedze’s shooting. The court presiding officer said the evidence gave details of all dealings between the accused person and his accomplices. This was narrowed down to meetings, phone calls and the routes taken by the suspected killers prior to and after the shooting. He had also observed that Shongwe had shown his accomplices that he harboured a lot of hatred for Gamedze, and that this animosity was traced to complex business deals which were threatening to bring down his business empire. He further discussed the long journey travelled by Shongwe and Zikalala to Johannesburg, where the services of Nkosi were secured for the shooting of Gamedze. He said he also realised that Ngubane had been duped into believing that they were coming to the country to rob a moneyed businessman who always carried millions with him. He also mentioned a cast of characters whose reputation was suspect, including slain SA underworld leader Farouk Meyers who had offered his workshop as the venue for the early planning stages of the crime.
Judgement day in his lengthy trial for the murder was on Tuesday (October 17, 2023), where Judge Maseko handed down a seven-hour judgment. This marked the near-end of one of the country’s much followed and thrilling trial, which revealed the goings-on in the shady dealings of the dog-eat-dog underworld.
Gamedze was gunned down on January 14, 2018 at the Galp Filling station at Ezulwini, where two gunshot wounds to the head put an abrupt end to his illustrious football and business careers.
Swift action by investigators led to the eventual arrest of Matsapha businessman Shongwe, who was apprehended at the Ngwenya border only five days after the gruesome murder. It was the leaking of video footage of the scene of crime which put pressure on the individuals who were behind the killing. Soon thereafter, local investigators managed to solicit the help of Interpol towards the apprehension of two other suspected killers whose whereabouts were traced to SOWETO, a well-known Johannesburg residential location.
Several items like retail receipts and other contents of the getaway car, a Toyota Yaris, as well as mobile service provider MTN network towers helped to bring police closer to the men suspected to have killed the football administrator, a key witness told the court during the lengthy trial.
In the end Shongwe was the only person to be charged with the murder of Gamedze. The prosecution’s theory was that he orchestrated the assassination and lured the two South African nationals to come to the country to carry out the hit.
A video footage retrieved from the crime scene showed one of the accomplice witnesses, Nkosi, as the person who eventually shot the deceased, a fact which he also did not dispute during his evidence-in-chief and during the cross-examination.
During his testimony, Nkosi maintained that he would have not travelled to the country if he had never come across Shongwe and Dzodzo Zikalala who was introduced to him as Charlie. He told the court that Shongwe made the deadly request during a meeting held at a workshop owned by slain SA underworld gang leader Farouk Meyer, situated around the suburb of Eldorado Park in Johannesburg.
He told the court that he was meeting the pair from Eswatini for the first time when Shongwe requested him to assist in killing a certain man who was giving him a hard time back in Eswatini.
Initially, he said, he refused to assist.
He then made reference to a threat which he said emanated from Shongwe, and which was apparently to the effect that he had no idea of who he was dealing with. Subsequently, he said Shongwe phoned him to issue further threats, insinuating that his family would be harmed if he insisted with declining to help him.
Nkosi told the court that it was then that he relented and proceeded to go and kill ‘Shongwe’s enemy’.