The stake out

Imagine you are a cop, and your wife and child have been threatened by a young man suspected of serial hijackings.

This was the situation that Sergeant Lindani Venter Mhlongo said he faced in tracking down the two hijackers, Vivi Mthembu, 23, and Sphelele Shezi, 19.

Mhlongo, more widely known in police and township circles by his third name, Venter, was the cop who arranged the police stakeout near the N3 outside Durban at which Mthembu and Shezi were finally killed on January 6 2011.

He said three days before this stakeout, Mthembu had phoned him.

“He told me that my wife drove a red Audi, and what school my kid was at. I sold that car the very next day because I felt my family was at risk,” said Mhlongo.

There are no witnesses other than the police to say what happened at the stakeout three days later.  Also on the scene was another cop, Pedro, who knew the family of William Hammond, the 14-year-old boy killed by Shezi and Mthembu nine years ago.

Interviewed at the scene of the stakeout, Mhlongo denied that any execution-style killing had taken place. Both Mthembu and Shezi had vowed that they would go down shooting, he said.

He said the day before this stakeout, Mthembu and Shezi had hijacked a vehicle in Caversham Glen, Pinetown.

“We had given chase,” said Mhlongo. “They shot at us and we backed off. They thought the same strategy would work again, but this time we knew what we were going to do,” said Mhlongo.

Mhlongo said he had received information that the two would be heading for KwaNdengezi, near Shongweni, to collect money from a person who had just sold a stolen silver BMW in Swaziland. This car had been hijacked in Sydenham two weeks earlier, said Mhlongo.

Mhlongo said he also knew the two would be driving a silver VW Polo, hijacked in Chatsworth two weeks before.

So a roadblock was set up on their route, at the turnoff to KwaNdengezi.

“There was no other way they could come. We parked here,” he said, standing opposite the turn-off. “Here there were two cars, and over there more SAPS cars, ready to block them.”

“We waited from early morning till one o’clock,” said Mhlongo.

Having been shot at the day before, the officers were tense, said Mhlongo.

But this time the cops had firepower, “much more than they (Mthembu and Shezi) had”, said Mhlongo. “We were ready for them.”

As the hours passed, Mhlongo began to wonder if their tip-off was correct.

Then, the car they were waiting for came around the corner, 100m from where the police stood armed and ready.

“The passenger window was open,” said Mhlongo. “I just saw the hat, Sphelele’s hat. Vivi always used to drive. When they saw us, they did not stop but took the turn up the hill there towards KwaNdengezi.”(See map).

“We put sirens and blue lights on to show that we were following. Sphelele, he opened the door and started shooting,” said Mhlongo.

“So we returned fire, shooting to kill,” said Mhlongo.

He said as Mthembu took the first sharp corner on the hill, he lost control of the VW Polo, and hit the road barrier. The Polo veered across the road, ramped up a bank 20m further down, overturned and landed on its roof.

At the time of this interview, six months of after the incident, shards of windscreen glass and associated debris, including a licence disc from the Polo, still lay about the scene where Shezi half fell out of the car, “already dead”, said Mhlongo.

“Vivi clambered out,” said Mhlongo imitating the hunching and shuffling of the dying Vivi.

“I said: ‘Hawu, it’s finished’ but I did not want to expose myself. Vivi was carrying a .38 special. He fired one shot, then tried to run, but had nowhere to go. There was still a car coming from the top to back us up, and a car coming from this side. That’s where he fell down,” said Mhlongo, pointing to a spot by the roadside where Mthembu died.

Postmortem records show that Mthembu sustained wounds to the back of the head, stomach and thigh. Shezi sustained multiple bullet wounds to the face and head, left arm and chest.

  • The interviews at the stake out scene were conducted by Joel Burton, Sandile Gumede and Sabelo Nsele, supervised by Roving Reporters director, Fred Kockott