Duduzane Zuma’s defence team for his trial at the Randburg Magistrate’s court led evidence that it was unlikely Zuma was speeding when his Porsche 911 smashed into a minibus taxi near the Grayston Drive M1 off-ramp, resulting in the death of passenger Phumzile Dube. Zuma faces charges of culpable homicide after the crash in 2014.
Expert defence witness Konrad Lotter, a mechanical engineer, reconstructed the accident for the court. He concluded that Zuma lost control and veered to the left, causing his car to crash into the minibus taxi. The impact of the collision could have led the other driver to lose control.
Lotter said the fact that after the crash the vehicles had come to a stop near each other was an indication that they had been travelling at more or less the same speed. Taxi driver Vusi Dlamini had previously told the court that at the time of the crash he was travelling at about 100km/h.
Lotter rebutted any suggestions that the Porsche could have been travelling faster than the taxi. He told the court that on looking at where the car had hit the taxi, it was possible that when the crash occurred the Porsche driver had been slowing down. Lotter said it made sense that a vehicle travelling at high speed would take longer to be brought to a halt.
Lotter said lighter vehicles with wide tyres aquaplaned easily when travelling at low speed.
But prosecutor Baba began by reading out an expert’s opinion of good driver behaviour. He told the court a good driver would drive at a speed at which they could manage to bring the vehicle to a halt safely. He said a good driver would maintain full concentration and take cognisance of the fact that the higher the speed of a vehicle, the longer the stopping distance.
Zuma did not dispute this.
Baba explained that what was meant by “inappropriate speed” was when the speed was unsuitable for the circumstances.
Again Zuma did not dispute this.
Getting back to the technicalities on which Zuma’s culpability lay, Baba told the court that rapid speed reduction in heavy rainfall posed a danger to all road users. Baba said in such conditions drivers should lower their speed to avoid aquaplaning, and show compassion for other motorists.
“Do you think driving at 90-100km/h was a good speed, considering the wet conditions and compromised vision?”
“I confidently stand by my previous submission,” Zuma said.
Baba told the court that based on expert evidence, if Zuma said he was travelling at 90km/h, this would mean that he would need another 45 metres to bring the car to a stop.
Borrowing from his initial defence, Zuma told the court that he could not have foreseen a puddle of water in the middle of a freeway.
“I didn’t expect to stumble on a puddle of stagnant water on an open highway with wide lanes,” said Zuma.
“How often did you drive your Porsche motor vehicle on this road (M1) in rainy conditions?” asked Baba.
“A few times, your worship,” Zuma answered.
“So what made this particular occasion different?” asked Baba.
“Your worship, I was obstructed by the puddle water,” responded Zuma.
Baba then put it to Zuma that Porsches have a wet mode which can be activated by a driver to assist them in such conditions. This line of argument had taken centre stage previously in the trial, as well as conditions that would prevent or aid aquaplaning being thoroughly argued, based on expert evidence.
Defence lawyer Michael Hellens SC told the court that Zuma’s car had a propensity to aquaplane and that the former president’s son could not have known this at the time of the crash, nor could he have anticipated a puddle of water in the middle of a freeway.
Baba said an exercise had been run by AutoCar magazine seeking to find out which car performed best in wet conditions. Baba said results pointed to a VW R as the best, with the Porsche 911 the runner-up.
Hellens interjected and said that Baba’s assertions were hopeless, as he had referred articles on the Porsche and the car’s performance to Zuma, who was not an engineering expert.
Zuma estimated the speed he was travelling at to have been 90km/h. He told the court that he had not been watching his speedometer as he drove.
The former president’s son told the court that he had been returning from Throbbing Strawberry restaurant in Fourways when the accident happened. He had been headed to his home in Saxonworld.
After the crash, Zuma had contacted his insurance company. An assessor’s estimation of the speed Zuma was driving at was 70km/h.
Black First Land First (BLF), which has supported Zuma since the trial began, said the case was being used to fight political battles.
“Our view is that Duduzane Zuma was involved in a car accident. He is not a murderer like Ramaphosa, who ordered the massacre of miners in Marikana. It is rather unfortunate that a life was lost in the accident. However, as BLF we do not believe this case should he used for political battles as we are seeing with the involvement of AfriForum, who are enemies of former president Zuma,” said the BLF’s Zanele Lwana.
“Duduzane Zuma will not get a free and fair trial, just because he is the son of Zuma, and we have seen how on past occasions he had been kept in custody by police at the airport (OR Tambo) with no warrant of arrest, and arrived in iron shackles at the court of commercial crimes; he is already being criminalised before the verdict,” said Lwana.
“Also, the state had decided to not prosecute before, what has now changed? We believe the state is being used by AfriForum to fight blacks, particularly the ongoing battle against the Zuma family.” DM