Sanele Mbhele, one of six alleged "hitmen" linked to the death of Gauteng Department of Health whistleblower Babita Deokaran, has been secretly pocketing his income from a KwaZulu-Natal municipality for months, including time spent behind bars.
According to the State, he and five others were part of a gang of contract murderers hired to kill Deokaran, who died last month from gunshot wounds she received in a drive-by shooting in Mondeor, southern Johannesburg.
The six had rented safe rooms across the city months before Deokaran's killing, according to key police sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity. They had also followed her for weeks previous to the shooting, carefully studying her movements and habits.
Mbhele was allegedly paid by the taxpayer as he and others plotted the murder of Deokaran, a loyal civil servant, who was killed down by a government functionary moonlighting as a hitman, if his guilt is established.
When News24 inquired about Mbhele's employment over a month after his detention, the municipal manager was only now "considering" disciplinary action because they had no idea where he was.
Municipal manager Patrick Mkhize said:
We acknowledge Sanele Mbhele works at Inkosi Langalibalele Local Municipality, although our records show that he last reported for work in March. The municipality is considering a disciplinary action on abscondment as we don't know his whereabouts.
Mbhele, Nhlangano Ndlovu, Siphakanyiswa Dladla, Zitha Radebe, Simphiwe Mazibuko, and Phakamani Radebe were detained in a police operation four days after Deokaran was slain.
According to sources, police tracked the digital trail left by the cars the men used to spy on Deokaran. Prior to her death, a vigilant neighbor had written down the registration number of a car circling the neighborhood.
The movement of the car was quietly monitored using a network of automated licence plate recognition cameras placed across Johannesburg, eventually bringing authorities to the safe houses.
Mbhele, Dladla, and Ndlovu had been pent up in a storeroom they rented on a Rosettenville house, set behind high walls.
Mkhize brushed off inquiries about Mbhele's pay and length of service. His period of service as a general worker began in 2018, according to documents obtained by News24, and he lived in the community of eNgodini near Weenen in rural KwaZulu-Natal before moving to the safe house.
A top ANC member was earlier identified as a "person of interest" in the investigation, implicated in the six's confessions after their detention, according to News24.
The ANC politician has held high-ranking posts in government and is still a powerful figure within the party. Only six arrests have been made in the case so far, leaving the suspected mastermind in the wind. On October 1, they are scheduled to petition for bail at the Johannesburg Magistrate's Court.
They face charges of murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and unauthorized possession of a firearm and ammunition, among other things.
Deokaran had been a key witness for the graft-busting Special Investigating Unit as it investigated rampant corruption at the Gauteng health department and its colossal spending on personal protective equipment (PPE) after the Covid-19 pandemic struck, which soared into the hundreds of millions of rands.
Deokaran had been a bulwark against improper and illegitimate payments in her job as chief director: financial accounting. She was also in charge of the evidence paper trail left by individuals who preyed on public monies because she was in charge of the balance sheets, making her a significant asset to the SIU.
Investigations into the department's PPE spending have already resulted in the resignations of health MEC Bandile Masuku, chief financial officer Kabelo Lehloenya, and supply chain boss Thandiwe Pino for their roles in swaying the award of three contracts for a total of R332 million.
Royal Bhaca Projects, which was managed by the late Madzikane II Diko, husband of former presidency spokeswoman Khusela Diko, was allegedly awarded an R125 million contract to supply PPE to the department in an unlawful manner.
The Dikos and Masuku had a strong relationship. While the deal was being canceled, a business called Ledla Structural Development, which has been accused of acting as a proxy for Madzikane Diko, made an R139 million profit. Beadica 423 cc, a third business, received just over R68 million to supply a variety of masks. Khusela Diko was found not guilty of any wrongdoing, yet she was demoted from her public-facing position.
The SIU investigations discovered that Lehloenya and Pino did not follow correct procurement procedures when giving contracts to Royal Bacha, Ledla, and Beadica. Before the axe fell, the former resigned, and Pino was fired after a disciplinary process. Masuku was fired due to a lack of sufficient control.
Due to the sensitivity of the matter, Hawks spokesman Col Philani Nkwalase declined to comment, other than to state that the investigation was ongoing and that future arrests could not be ruled out.
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