AGE OF THE ASSASSIN
Babita Deokaran murder: Zweli Mkhize not off the hook despite murder accused’s U-turn
Although one of the six accused in the murder of senior Gauteng health department official Babita Deokaran has retracted his allegation that former health minister Zweli Mkhize was the mastermind, Mkhize is not off the hook until the court decides so.
The damning court evidence was the focal point during arguments in the bail application of the six accused in the murder of Babita Deokaran on Tuesday, 2 November, in the Johannesburg Magistrates’ Court.
The application by Phakamani Hadebe (accused 1), Zitha Radebe (accused 2), Phinda Ndlovu (accused 3), Sanele Mbhele (accused 4), Siphiwe Mazibuko (accused 5) and Siphakanyiswa Dladla (accused 6) was ventilated before magistrate Simon Sibanyoni.
Advocate Peter Wilkins read the affidavits of the first four accused into the record. But it was Hadebe’s affidavit that raised eyebrows. In it, he says he dragged Mkhize’s name into the murder of Deokaran to stop the police brutality and torture he endured during his interrogation.
His confession was made shortly after his arrest on 26 August 2021 in Rosettenville, Johannesburg. Hadebe claimed in his affidavit he had met Mkhize and someone identified as Mkhize’s brother in the Brits Mall on 16 August and that they hired him to murder Deokaran.
Deokaran was shot and killed on 23 August 2021, seven days before the alleged meeting between Hadebe, Mkhize and Mkhize’s so-called brother. She was shot outside her house in Winchester Hills in the south of Johannesburg. Her car was riddled with bullets.
At the time of her death Deokaran was a key witness in the Special Investigating Unit’s (SIU) probe into the R332-million PPE scandal at the Gauteng health department. She was also one of the whistle-blowers who assisted the SIU in its investigation.
In his affidavit, Hadebe said his confession was made under duress and the alleged meeting with Mkhize and his brother was a complete figment of his imagination:
“I have never met our former Health Minister Mr Mhkize nor his brother. I suspect one of the pictures which I could not identify was indeed that of our former health minister.”
A statement from Mkhize, released on Wednesday, said it was with shock and sadness that he learnt that his name had been dragged into the case of the men arrested in connection with Deokaran’s murder.
“Mkhize would like to take this opportunity to assure the Deokaran family and all South Africans who are still reeling from the trauma of this callous crime that he has absolutely nothing to do with it, nor the alleged procurement irregularities which are believed to have driven it,” the statement reads.
“It should be remembered that these alleged procurement irregularities took place at a provincial level, far away from the national sphere of government where he was deployed as a national Minister of Health.”
Mkhize has since instructed his lawyers to write to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) to investigate the circumstances surrounding the extraction and acceptance into evidence of the reported “confession” whose value could only have been to cause him “political embarrassment”.
Legal experts told Maverick Citizen that Hadebe’s confession cannot be retracted during the bail application and will stand until it has been declared inadmissible by a trial court.
A trial-within-a-trial in terms of section 217 (1) of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977 (CPA) will determine the admissibility of Hadebe’s confession implicating Mkhize.
In terms of this section, evidence of any confession made by an accused person in relation to the commission of any offence shall, if such confession is proved to have been freely and voluntarily made by such person in his sound and sober sense and without having been unduly influenced thereto, be admissible in evidence against such a person at criminal proceedings relating to such offence.
In the matter between the State v Phumlane Fortune Ngwenya in 2015, the court underlined the main object of a trail-within-a-trial, which is to determine whether the self-incriminating statement by an accused can be reliably regarded as a true statement by the accused of what happened or whether the statement has been induced through duress and is therefore unreliable or, at least, unjustly obtained, so that it should be excluded as evidence as a matter of judicial policy.
Ipid spokesperson Grace Langa, responding to Mkhize’s request in his statement for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the extraction and acceptance into evidence of the reported “confession”, said Ipid had not received any letter or request to investigate the matter so it would be “premature for us to make public statements on a matter that is not formally brought to our attention”.
“There is not really much to say except to say we have not received the said complaint.”
The bail application of the six accused will continue in the Johannesburg Magistrates’ Court on Friday, 5 November. Proceedings will begin with Wilkins reading the affidavits of Mazibuko and Dladla.
The State will then present its case with compelling arguments as to why the accused should not be released on bail. DM/MC