Three men have been sentenced to two life terms in prison for the murder of a police officer and tavern owner during a crime spree in Gauteng in 2016.
Halalisani Eugene Gumede, 30, Lungisane Gamelihle Madlala, 27, and Ntuthuko Mseleku, 30, were sentenced to two life sentences plus 604 years behind bars in the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg on Thursday.
They were found guilty of murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, the possession of unlicensed firearms, and defeating and obstructing justice.
According to police, their reign of terror started in August 2016 when they robbed a tavern in Palm Ridge.
After the owner, Mbakwa Ephraim Mdaka, was alerted to the robbery, he made his way to the tavern, where he was "unmercifully shot and immediately succumbed to [his] injuries," said police spokesperson Brigadier Mathapelo Peters said.
"The three took the deceased's firearm[and] an undisclosed amount of money, and ransacked the tavern."
Local armed response security officials arrived at the crime scene and were confronted by Gumede, Mseleku and Madlala, who overpowered them and took their firearms.
An off-duty Ekurhuleni metro police officer, Constable Sabelo Welcome Ngwenya, heard the commotion, rushed to the scene and immediately chased after the getaway vehicle.
"Unbeknownst to Ngwenya, the suspects were using two vehicles."
Gumede and Madlala crashed into a tree as they fled in one of the vehicles, forcing them to stop near to the crime scene.
While Ngwenya attempted to arrest them, Mseleku turned back in a black Toyota RunX and shot Ngwenya dead before the three men fled.
Gumede and Madlala were arrested a week later in Brakpan and police confiscated five pistols and a revolver from them.
"The following day, the investigation team followed up on intelligence information which led them to Rustenburg [in the] North West where they arrested Mseleku at a local hotel."
Further investigations revealed that the three men's criminal activities included armed attacks on innocent victims in which they stole wedding rings, watches and cash.
"Many civilians also felt the brunt of the cruelty when they were attacked at shopping centres, township taverns and if they resisted, they were then severely assaulted and shot at."
Police Minister Bheki Cele commended investigators for the quality of their investigation.
"An attack on the police is an attack on the state. Anyone who is hellbent on undermining the authority of the state deserves to rot in jail," Cele said.
Hawks head Lieutenant General Godfrey Lebeya added: "I commend the investigation and prosecuting team that have, for five years, worked on these cases."