Southsea's ex-Winnie Mandela vigilante due to testify in an infamous murder trial in South Africa avoids jail for brandishing large kitchen knife and threatening acid attack

THE ex-Winnie Mandela vigilante who was due to testify in an infamous murder trial in South Africa avoided jail for brandishing a large kitchen knife and threatening to throw acid at a man who had allegedly assaulted him.

By Steve Deeks
Tuesday, 12th April 2022, 4:45 am

Katiza Cebekhulu, 52, was handed a reprieve at Portsmouth Crown Court after judge, Recorder Louise Harvey, said it would be ‘unjust’ to impose the statutory minimum sentence of six months jail for repeat knife offenders.

Cebekhulu has served previous prison terms for knife offences including in 2019 when he was locked up for 18 months for brandishing a meat cleaver after a row with door staff from Drift Bar in Palmerston Road in August 2018. Six months later he also threatened a security guard with a baseball bat in Guildhall Walk.

The infamous former enforcer also has previous weapon convictions in 2004 - which included wounding with intent to commit grievous bodily harm - and two more in 2009.

Katiza Cebekhulu with a baseball bat in Guildhall Walk, Portsmouth in 2019. Pic: Courtesy of CPS Wessex

But Recorder Harvey, despite admitting it was ‘unusual’ not to impose the statutory minimum sentence, said she wanted to help ‘break the cycle’ of weapon offences followed by prison terms for Cebekhulu, who suffers with complex PTSD and drinks alcohol to excess as a consequence of the horrors from his past.

‘It is unusual not to impose the statutory minimum sentence but I have considered it to be unjust,’ the judge said.

She added: ‘You have strong mitigation and a realistic prospect of rehabilitation and it makes sense for you to have the support of probation rather than lock you up for six or 12 months which has not worked before.’

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The court heard how Cebekhulu became involved in a dispute on February 2 around 6pm at the Society of St James hostel in Elm Grove where he stays.

Cebekhulu said he had been assaulted by a man before he went to arm himself with a ‘large kitchen knife’ while declaring he was going to ‘deal with him’.

‘He also made threats he was going to throw acid in the man’s face and was going to get a gun,’ prosecutor Matthew Lawson said.

Staff at the hostel managed to calm him down before taking the knife off him.

Police arrived at the scene and arrested Cebekhulu who said he was assaulted after returning from the pub drunk. ‘He said he armed himself to defend himself and was angry he had been attacked,’ Mr Lawson said.

Daniel Reilly, defending, gave an overview of Cebekhulu’s life story - accepted by the judge as ‘strong mitigation’ for his offending.

Cebekhulu, who has had three books written about his experiences, was part of the notorious vigilante ‘Mandela Football Club’ at a time of brutality and murder in the underbelly of South Africa.

He rose to prominence after becoming the so-called ‘missing witness’ from the high-profile Johannesburg trial in which Winnie Mandela, wife of Nelson Mandela, was accused of the torture and murder of 14-year-old boy Stompie Moeketsi.

Cebekhulu had claimed he saw Winnie Mandela stab the boy – thought to be a police spy. He disappeared on the eve of the 1991 trial in which he was expected to testify against Winnie Mandela.

After living in fear, as recounted in his book Winnie Mandela, Nelson and Me, the former assassin fled war-torn South Africa before coming to the UK in 1999.

Before arriving in the UK, the former MP Baroness Emma Nicholson had taken up the fight to help free Cebekhulu after he was imprisoned in Zambia at the request of Nelson Mandela before he was removed and brought to England.

‘He was taken under the wing of Baroness Nicholson for health and education,’ Mr Reilly said.

Following a truth and reconciliation committee in South Africa, Cebekhulu was flown out from the UK to his native country to give evidence against Willy Mandela and for other acts without recrimination.

But once in the country the situation turned sour. ‘He was told he had to leave and was taken straight to the airport and flown out,’ Mr Reilly said.

‘The indications were that he was about to be arrested and detained contrary to the agreement when he was flown out. He never gave evidence.’

The barrister went on to say the defendant had suffered significantly as a result of his past, with him not able to see his mum before she died.

Cebekhulu lost his job in the UK and ended up homeless on the streets. ‘He used alcohol to manage the flashbacks,’ Mr Reilly said.

The barrister said probation described Cebekhulu as a ‘low risk of serious harm’ and, highlighting a psychiatrist’s report into the defendant, argued that alcohol was the route of his problems which impaired his ability to make good decisions.

Asking the judge not to impose the statutory minimum sentence with it ‘unjust’ in light of Cebekhulu’s past, Mr Reilly proposed a ‘new’ form of intervention to help Cebekhulu in the form of an alcohol abstinence monitoring requirement.

The proposal was accepted by the judge. ‘On previous occasions you have gone to prison and then come out and committed the same offence. It would be helpful to break the cycle,’ Recorder Harvey said.

Instead of jail, Cebekhulu, who admitted a charge of possessing a knife, was handed a 24-month community order with 20 rehabilitation days and told to complete 150 hours of unpaid work.

He will also have to complete a 12-week alcohol abstinence monitoring requirement.