Alibi 2: Laduma High | Episode 3 | The Trigger Man
We get insights from all sides into how we should be tackling the case.
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Siya Bekwa is 21 years old. He witnessed his high school teacher, Priscilla Mchunu, getting gunned down by two assassins in 2017 while he was in Matric. He came to Laduma High to redo grade 11 and 12 which he’d struggled with at a much wealthier school nearby. When he got to Laduma he says some of the teachers teased him for being from what they called a “white school” and would often ask him when he was going back.
The two of us chat about his life and his time at Laduma and then there is something that brings the case of Priscilla’s assassination into focus. Siya’s father, Dumisani went and visit Priscilla’s son, who also lives in Pietermaritzburg.
“And my father went to go and visit her son. Our late teacher’s son,” says Siya. Priscilla told her son that she was having disputes with the teachers at school.
“My father asked him, okay, you are telling us if anything happens to her then we must look to the teachers in school,” says Siya. So Priscilla’s son has said that his mother would come home crying and she said if she were to be killed then they must look to the teachers as suspects. This is a huge revelation. Siya and Dumisani have brought me to this point and now I think, what next?
The next day I sit in my guesthouse and begin phoning every police contact I have. I leave messages and explain to each of them that I’m a journalist working on the Laduma case.
Finally, when I’m starting to think this is the end, the second investigating officer who worked on Priscilla’s case, Colonel Sithole, answers my call. He says he is no longer on the case or at the same station, he was deployed in April 2018 to Manguzi, which is about 700 kms from Pietermaritzburg. The docket and case have been moved to a warrant officer called Bengu.
“Eish, ja, bru,” he says. “Now, you see, the problem is I’m no longer doing the same case,” he says.
But he adds that they had information on who the suspects may be according to cellphone records and they also had a sketch of the assassins. This is likely to be Siya’s handiwork: the sketch that he did when he managed to break away from being watched by the teachers and talk to the cops privately.
Sithole offers advice, saying that one should chase the “trigger man” rather than the person who ordered the hit. He says it is too time consuming to get involved in the emotions of a family, for example. And if you catch the assassin you can usually pressure them into giving a confession. Sithole says that the trigger man, once arrested may negotiate for a reduced sentence in a trade for giving up the person who employed him.
“To be honest with you, Bru,” he says. “I won’t tell you lies. That case is a straightforward case. I believe that 90% of the school teachers are aware of this killing. They are aware of exactly what was going to happen. They know everything, it is just that now it’s a pity that we do not have the evidence at this stage.”
The person I really need right now though is Bengu, the current investigating officer. So, I go to try and get a look at the docket at Plessislair Police Station. This is a huge compound of a station in the centre of an extremely poor informal settlement. It is the complete opposite of where Dumisani works, that we visited in the last episode. There are piles of litter and roaming live animals around the entrance. I see Bengu walking at me from across the parking lot. He is a tall, stern looking man.
“Morning,” he says.
“Hello Sir,” I say.
“This is Warrant Officer Bengu,” he says.
“Nice to meet you,” I say.
I lay out my case. Bengu is stubborn and mute, except saying he can’t help. He says plenty is already being done. And I shouldn’t worry. I leave despondent.
Later that afternoon I’m sitting on the edge of my bed in my guesthouse, the kind of place where you always feel like you are staying in someone’s home — and not in a good way — with their pet birds and early curfews. And as I’m tying a shoelace preparing to leave, a friend of mine — Reverend Gidi — phones me. You’ll remember him from the first episode when I visited his office. He works for the KwaZulu-Natal Christian Council (or KZNCC).
His wife is a school teacher and he initially introduced me to the case of Priscilla’s murder.
Gidi, as his job, mediates on issues of political violence and assassinations.
“We can arrange to meet somewhere discreet. Not at my office. Not in my house. Because there is a feeling that they are being followed,” Gidi says. “Not sure what you think. Think about it. It’s not a dictation.” I’ve never heard Reverend Gidi talk in this tone before. “In an open space but also not with everybody. Pietermaritzburg airport is very small. Maybe that’s what we may want to do,” he says. Word has leaked after visiting the police. There are other interviews I want to do, but I am paralysed. I sit in my room and listen to the owner’s elderly mother’s TV blare loudly through the wall. All day and all night. The next morning I go and wait at the airport.
I sit in the corner of the cafeteria at Pietermaritzburg airport with as much visibility in front of me and a wall behind me. I wait for Reverend Gidi and start to question why I’m even working on this story. It is clearly provoking certain people. Gidi never arrives. I sit alone eating toasted sandwiches and thinking of Bengu. I board the flight, and by this stage, I have decided I am going to stick with the case. I can’t let it go.
This is the second series of the podcast Alibi. The first delved into a possible wrongful conviction.
“Alibi 2: Laduma High” is produced by Volume and distributed by Arena Holdings.
To find all episodes in the series once they are published, click here.
You can find the podcast Alibi 2: Laduma High at TimesLIVE, www.volume.africa/alibi or wherever you get your podcasts.