Maxwell Khumalo, dubbed the “Robin Hood of Bulawayo” ÔÇô for robbing banks in Botswana, South Africa and Namibia then taking the spoils back to his starving community in Zimbabwe, has been arrested in South Africa.
Khumalo – who has been linked to 28 robberies – and his gang are believed to be Southern Africa’s most ruthless bank robbers, who caused 2006’s statistics to rocket.
The gang – on the rampage for seven years – has allegedly struck in Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and stand accused of murdering two South African police officers while fleeing a robbery in May.
Khumalo, who also goes by the nickname the “Hammer Man” for smashing the banks’ bullet-proof glass with a sledgehammer – was finally arrested in July. Three of his accomplices are also behind bars.
The Botswana Police Service could not comment on the arrest this week as they were still gathering information. South African National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi’s spokesperson, Director Sally de Beer, was quoted in the Independent Newspapers saying that the backbone of the country’s bank robberies had been broken.
”They were responsible for a huge chunk of bank robberies in South Africa,” she said.
Police estimate that the smashing of the gang could influence national bank robbery statistics by over 60 percent.
According to the police’s latest figures, bank robberies more than doubled last year from 59 to 129.
South African police have identified 15 members of the gang, some of whom are believed to have formed a small splinter group after a violent feud between the robbers over the division of spoils. Investigators are closing in on the new group – some of whom may have fled to Zimbabwe.
Between June 1, 2006 and July this year, 30-year-old Khumalo and his gang – all of whom from Zimbabwe – robbed at least 16 banks, taking as little as one minute to carry out a hit. The gang didn’t always operate together and members split up to commit robberies with other criminals.
One member, Plan Ndebele, is sitting in a Namibian jail for three robberies committed with locals.
After the protective glass was smashed, the gangsters jumped over and grabbed whatever cash they could before fleeing. They always used guns, but didn’t use them inside.
The rule was that whoever made it into the getaway vehicles (which were mostly hijacked) got a ride; the others had to scatter and catch taxis.
They targeted two of the country’s major banks.
After dividing the loot, and sometimes laying low for a while, gang members sneaked back to Zimbabwe.
What made the gang difficult to catch was that they weren’t on any of the police’s systems. They also never slept at the same place and were always on the move.
Khumalo was initially arrested in October 2003 but managed to escape from Boksburg prison in December that year. He went underground and resurfaced in April 2005.
Khumalo was finally arrested on July 12 while walking in Booysens, southern Johannesburg. His alleged accomplice, Dumizweni Dube, 26, was with him and was also locked up.
Xavier Ncomo, a gang member, is already serving 75 years in jail for two bank heists committed in 2003.
“The police officers involved in this case, who have been reporting personally to me over the past few weeks, have undoubtedly crippled this gang, and I thank them for their sterling efforts,” said Commissioner Selebi. “We must now ensure that the rest of the gang are apprehended and thrown behind bars.”
Khumalo is expected to make his next court appearance in Brakpan at the end of the month. Police hope to use forensic evidence from the crime scenes to convict the suspects.
Meanwhile, police are looking for the remaining gang members.