Hunt for East Rand serial killer gets personal

Captain Henry Ndzinise speaks about the heavy task of hunting down a serial killer.
Captain Henry Ndzinise speaks about the heavy task of hunting down a serial killer.
Image: Thulani Mbele

When a serial murderer escaped from prison, Cpt Henry Ndzinise feared he might terrorise his family in vengeance.

Ndzinise, who is with the Gauteng Special Task Team, has been investigating cases related to serial murderer Mongezi Mcunukelwa, 31, who had gone on a two-year killing spree on the East Rand.

Mcunukelwa escaped from custody twice in 2018 - first in April when he and 15 other awaiting trialists escaped through a pipe shaft and used an object to break a wall at Johannesburg Prison, also known as Sun City. He was rearrested in Eastern Cape.

The 53-year-old officer said his worst nightmare was realised when he heard that Mcunukelwa had escaped again a few months later, this time at the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg, in December.

"We formed a task team and managed to trace him to Eastern Cape. He was convicted and sentenced to two life terms for the murders of 22-year-old Mokebe Moloi and 28-year-old Mpho Morabe," he said.

Mcunukelwa accosted and stabbed the victims outside a tavern in Katlehong. They were both from the area.

"I know this guy [Mcunukelwa] because we live in the same area. He knows my family. I knew that it would be a matter of life and death if I didn't arrest him. He could have decided to take aim at my family while I wasn't home and that gave me sleepless nights," said Ndzinise.

He said a task team was formed on the day Mcunukelwa escaped from court in December and the manhunt went on for more than six days.

Mongezi Mcunukelwa
Mongezi Mcunukelwa

"One of our informers told us that he was in Phomola, Ekurhuleni. It was challenging because even though we knew that he was in Katlehong, we couldn't locate him," said Ndzinise.

"We deployed two teams, one which patrolled the area in a vehicle while I was part of a team that was on foot. I came across him [Mcunukelwa], but didn't see him. My partner saw him and he pointed him out. We instructed him to stop, but he didn't. So we shot at him and he managed to escape, but we caught him at a later stage," he said.

Ndzinise said Mcunukelwa's motives for committing murders were rooted in tavern arguments and marijuana dealing.

"His family has always been in the business of selling marijuana. When his father died, his mother, sister and himself took over the business. Now, if he puts a runner on a street corner and realised that someone else had taken over his corner he killed them," said Ndzinise.

Mcunukelwa is currently on trial for the murder of Richard Mthabela, along with two co-accused, Sanele Magida and Paseka Mahloromela. He also faces four counts of murder and another of illegal possession of a firearm. He also is appearing alongside Magida, Mahloromela, Vuyolethu Kilani, and Mkhululi Mahlangu on an unrelated matter.

A charge sheet seen by Sowetan alleged that in June 2017, Mcunukelwa collected Peter Pholle, Welcome Godlo, Sithandile Ngungwana and Sifiso Msibi-Mdluli, and took them to a house in Katlehong to sort out their differences with
Kilani. An argument broke out, and Mcunukelwa grabbed a firearm from Magida and shot at Pholle, Godlo,
Ngungwana and Msibi-Mdluli.

Three of the victims died instantly, with another succumbing to injuries at the Thelle Mogoerane hospital in Vosloorus.

"He is the most dangerous criminal I have ever had to deal with. He does not hesitate to kill," said Ndzinise.

The officer, with 28-year experience, said he is an avid Kaizer Chiefs supporter who was disappointed with their performance in the Absa Premier Soccer League.

"The management needs to change so that the team becomes better," he said.

The father of three said he spends his Sundays in church because he would not be able to handle the pressures of work without a divine hand guiding him. He also spends time off with family and neighbours.

"It's not easy dealing with the cases I come across. I prayed that we capture Mongezi because of the danger he posed to the community and the fear that I had that he could harm my family," said Ndzinise.

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