By Gen Terblanche5 June 2023
Imibuzo Season 1 episode 5 recap: Phumeza Pepeta, murdered by gunman in drag
In July 2020, 40-year-old Phumeza Pepeta was attending her father’s funeral at Matanzima cemetery in KwaNobuhle when a man dressed in a skirt, high heels and a wig drew a gun and shot her dead. Mourners managed to capture the gunman before he could flee and beneath the disguise they recognised the victim’s ex-husband, 57-year-old Xolani Mkayi. Xolani’s pattern of stalking and harassment despite an active protection order revealed how difficult it is for victims of gender-based violence to “just leave”, and exposed flaws in a system that places the emotional, practical and financial burden of leaving an abusive relationship entirely on the victim.
Now streaming on Showmax, South African true-crime series Imibuzo takes you inside the stories of crimes that rocked the nation. In episode 5, Imibuzo tackles the murder of Phumeza Pepeta, featuring interviews with her cousin Monwabisi Pepeta, then-DRUM magazine journalist Bonolo Sekudu, and Gqeberha-based journalist Nazizipho Buso.
Recap: What happened in Imibuzo episode 1
Recap: What happened in Imibuzo episode 2
Recap: What happened in Imibuzo episode 3
Recap: What happened in Imibuzo episode 4
Watch the trailer for Imibuzo
Monwabisi Pepeta paints a picture of his cousin as a well educated, high-achieving businesswoman who was a pillar of strength to her family, and a mother who was raising one daughter she shared with her husband, along with Phumeza’s son from before their relationship. “Xolani and Phumeza seemed like a perfect couple. We just saw two people that were in love,” he says.
Those closer to the couple soon saw something more sinister. Gqeberha-based journalist Nazizipho Buso had friends in both Phumeza and Xolani’s circles. “What I understood was that their relationship was tumultuous, and he was very abusive towards Phumeza. And it seemed like it came from a place of jealousy. She did very well without him,” says Nazizipho.
When the couple separated in 2019, Phumeza turned her life upside down to escape him. She moved out of the couple’s home, left Gqeberha and her entire family support system, found new work in East London, and bought a new home. But wherever she went, there was Xolani.
“There were rumours that he was hunting Phumeza down,” says Monwabisi. “Phumeza wouldn’t visit for a long time because she was avoiding Xolani. Xolani kept monitoring Phumeza’s movements. Xolani ended up going to East London frequently because he found where Phumeza used to stay. He’d follow her and monitor her movements. Phumeza would see him and run away. That’s what came up when I dug deeper,” says Monwabisi.
Bonolo reveals, “She couldn’t leave the relationship even when she wanted to. He was following her. When I spoke to Phelo, the younger sister, it was quite clear that Phumeza was happy to be out of the relationship that was allegedly abusive, and the younger sister was also happy that her sister was out of that.”
Phumeza built up enough of a record of Xolani’s continued harassment for a judge to grant a protection order. “For her safety, she had to involve law enforcement agencies,” says Nazizipho. “He had hacked her phone. He had stalked her. He had followed her from here in Gqeberha. Sometimes when she was out doing her shopping, he would mysteriously just appear. And he would sometimes listen in when she was having phone conversations with her family members. She got a protection order, to that extent, that he wasn’t allowed to text her, email, SMS, or call her. And stalk her.”
Phumeza had done everything, and still, it was not enough, not as long as Xolani could do as he pleased.
Dressed to kill
Conditions were hard for the family when Phumeza’s father died of Covid-19 during the pandemic lockdown in 2020, and Xolani’s harassment made grief and mourning even harder for Phumeza. “Phumeza never slept over that week,” recalls Monwabisi. “She never stayed long. She’d stop by and leave again. When I asked Phelo about it, she said Xolani was hunting Phumeza”. Then his daughter phoned him to tell him that Xolani had shot Phumeza at the funeral.
Nazizipho Buso came across the story via a video on social media (shared in the episode by Imibuzo). “I saw a video of a man wearing a blue dress, heels, and a wig lying just next to him, he was severely beaten. Then I realised with the comments that people were saying that it was a funeral. This man had shot someone at the funeral.”
The mourners leapt at Xolani and beat him with the spades from the graveside until the wig fell off and the truth was exposed. It was chaos. Some mourners continued to beat Xolani, others rushed to get help for Phumeza and some tried to call the police. Bonolo adds that Xolani went out of his way to kill Phumeza, in more ways than one. “It was quite a distance to get to the father’s funeral and this man was able to get there,” she points out.
More than one victim
Bonolo reveals that Phumeza was standing right next to her newly widowed mother when Xolani shot her. “Anyone could’ve got hit as well. Because it happened in such close proximity,” she says.
“It was a very painful experience. Imagine her dying in the manner she did while her father was being buried,” says Monwabisi. He adds that among those who didn’t attend the funeral because of Covid restrictions, many have been asking themselves whether things would have gone differently had they been there.
One week later, they’d be attending Phumeza’s funeral, and Phumeza’s younger sister Phelo would be shouldering the weight for the family. “When I saw her and I interviewed her before (Phumeza’s) funeral, she told me that she hadn’t cried, She said, ‘I can’t because what if my mom sees me? I’m worried, what if Phumeza’s kid sees me? I need to be strong for them,’” says Nazizipho. “Her funeral was very difficult. Her death was a very sad day for women in this country, especially those who had put their faith in the justice system to protect them from their abusers. She had gone through the correct steps as one would go. She had moved away from him. She had moved on with her life. She had gone through and had a protection order against him. She had divorced him. She had done most things that most victims of abuse don’t do. But yet he still went beyond that and he killed her.”
The slow, slow hand of justice
Despite Xolani being caught red-handed, justice arrived slowly for Phumeza’s family because of complications within the legal system stemming from the pandemic. Xolani’s behaviour only made things worse. “If I had a time machine, I’d put him away for good, before they are able to mourn and celebrate her life without it hanging over their head that they still needed to attend court cases. Still needed to see him,” says Nazizipho.
“Going to court is traumatising. Then he doesn’t even show remorse,” says Monwabisi. “Instead he enters into court and laughs at you. He’ll just come inside and before the court commences, they’ll postpone the trial to a later day. Then he’ll just look at you and laugh as he walks back to his cell.”
Xolani seemed to think that he should be allowed to walk free so that shooting his ex-wife wouldn’t inconvenience him. Nazizipho reveals, “Xolani said in court that he could not remember his state of mind. He could not remember shooting her. And he had said that he intended to plead not guilty to pre-meditated murder. And now he was okay to be let out and go back to society. I think he thought he was going to get bail!”
Phumeza died in July 2020, and, finally, in September 2022, Xolani was sentenced to 25 years behind bars. “There were four charges against him. For breaking the protection order, he was sentenced to three years. Then there was murder for 25 years. And then for unlawful possession of a firearm and unlawful possession of ammunition. But the count for breaking the protection order, ammunition, and the firearm were all going to be served concurrently with the murder charge. So effectively, he has 25 years behind bars,” says Nazizipho.
Entitlement and spite
Xolani wrote to Phumeza’s family from behind bars while awaiting trial. He posted to social media and made phone calls, reaching out to the child whose mother he’d murdered. “I think he had about three cell phones confiscated off him during his stay at St Albans,” says Nazizipho. “He just wouldn’t let this family rest.”
Xolani’s letters weren’t expressions of remorse, they were attempts to justify murder to his victim’s family. “In his letter, Xolani was explaining the reasons on how he got to kill Phumeza,” says Monwabisi. “He mentioned that Phumeza refused for him to see the child. He wanted his child by his side. He wanted to have access to the child. Phumeza didn’t agree.”
“That letter that he wrote where he painted himself as the victim, showed that he did not show any remorse for what he had done. And he had planned very well as to how he was going to murder her, because you don’t find a wig and a dress and heels in the same section if you go to a shop. And he still went and he acquired a gun and ammunition for the kill. He did it blatantly and in his letter where he paints himself as a victim of fathers whose children have been taken away by their mothers. Even then, he still shows himself as a victim,” says Nazizipho.
In Xolani’s eyes, he was the victim. Nazizipho explains, “He said that if Phumeza was not allowing him to see his child, then she must also not see the child. He made it seem like it was a call for all fathers who didn’t have access to children and he basically was a victim. He saw himself as a victim of Phumeza or the system. And in the letter, he says that he’s actually punishing Phumeza, so that she also doesn’t have access to the child anymore.”
Not content with killing Phumeza, Xolani continued to threaten her family. Monwabisi reveals that, “Xolani has certain family members that he says were a nuisance to his relationship with Phumeza. Xolani has targets, so the family is scared of him,” he says. “Xolani is connected. He’s still capable of killing from inside his cell. He can send his people.”
“I don’t think justice was served for Phumeza. I really don’t think 25 years behind bars is enough for a man that continues to torment this family,” says Nazizipho.
“Even him being sentenced to 50 years won’t bring us peace, because every time we see the name Phumeza, we feel sad,” agrees Monwabisi. “Xolani doesn’t show any humility or remorse. He just did what he did for his own reasons.”
Now streaming on Showmax, Imibuzo is a true-crime documentary anthology that will answer your lingering questions about some of South Africa’s biggest news stories from the last decade.
New episodes will drop every Monday until 10 July 2023. Coming soon, episode six will cover the Tshepang Pitse and Flavio Hlabangwe case.
Imibuzo is being produced by POP24, part of Media24, who made the reality series This Body Works For Me, which topped the Showmax Top 20 and Twitter trends charts. POP24 also co-produced the SAFTA-nominated true crime anthology Huisgenoot: Ware Lewensdramas.
Watch Imibuzo now on Showmax.
Watch Showmax local true-crime documentary Devilsdorp
Stella Murders: From the makers of Devilsdorp
More eye-opening documentaries
Eye-opening homegrown documentaries to stream
These unmissable South African shows and movies deliver surprising insights on the country we’re living in today.
Made in South Africa
7 documentaries about the secret lives of people you’ll probably never meet
Discover 7 documentaries from Kenya, Nigeria and the world at large about amazing people you may never meet.
The best international documentaries on Showmax right now
Be informed and entertained by our pick of the top documentaries streaming right now – from HBO’s 100 Foot Wave to Subjects of Desire.
South African true-crime documentary series to stream
It’s all too easy to get swept up in the emotional drama of a sensational court case. These true-crime series offer a fresh perspective with all the facts.
Made in South Africa