Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika and a co-accused were on Friday granted bail of R5,000 each, and had to turn in their passports before walking free. Which at least keeps them out of jail over the long weekend, but hardly explains the events of the past two days.
After at first declining to prosecute at all, prosecutors on Friday did not oppose bail for Wa Afrika or a co-accused, who jointly stand accused of fraud. Which raises new questions and fails to answer others. Why, for instance, did the courtroom feature policemen with bullet proof vests, pepper spray and guns? Why, if Wa Afrika is neither a risk to society or a flight risk, was he arrested on the street, handcuffed and transported hundreds of kilometres instead of being allowed to hand himself over? And what exactly are the charges against him?
Then there are the questions about the conduct of the Hawks special investigative unit. Spokesman Musa Zondi on Friday morning continued to insist that the charges have nothing to do with the fact that Wa Afrika is a journalist. Yet the document in question, a purported Mpumalanga premier’s resignation letter formed part of a Sunday Times investigation – until the story was dropped because it could not be confirmed. Then TimesLive on Friday morning reported that Wa Afrika had been interrogated about his reports on Mpumalanga, and specifically about that unpublished article.
On Thursday night the unit effectively argued that it would be just too inconvenient to set Wa Afrika free, which flies in the face of everything from standard procedure to a Constitutional Court judgment on the arrest of people not considered dangerous.
And it doesn’t help that Wa Afrika was arrested in an overly dramatic fashion the day after being publicly criticised by police chief General Bheki Cele.
With Wa Afrika now free, we wait to see how much of his story will be told. While we assume that the Sunday Times will be eager to spend a significant number of its pages on the story this weekend, the lawyers will surely be cautioning against revealing too much with a November court date coming up. The editors were not immediately available to give us an indication of what they are planning.
By Phillip de Wet
UPDATE: Eyewitness News reports that Wa Afrika had to use a back entrance to leave the court, in order to avoid a crowd gathered out front. Members of the crowd said they had come out in defence of Premier David Mabuza, and to protest what they called Afrika’s efforts to divide the ANC in Limpopo.
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