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Alleged Parliament arsonist finally sent to Eastern Cape for mental evaluation

Alleged Parliament arsonist finally sent to Eastern Cape for mental evaluation
Suspected Parliament arsonist Zandile Mafe has been referred for mental observation to Fort England Psychiatric Hospital in the Eastern Cape. 17 March 2023 (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

Suspected arsonist Zandile Mafe has been in jail since his arrest in January 2022 after a fire gutted parts of Parliament. Now, about 14 months later, he will receive a 30-day mental evaluation at Fort England Psychiatric Hospital in Makhanda in the Eastern Cape.

Arson-accused Zandile Mafe will undergo a mental evaluation at Fort England Psychiatric Hospital to determine whether he is mentally capable of comprehending the gravity of the charges against him, the crime he allegedly committed, and defending himself in court.

On Tuesday, Western Cape High Court Judge Nathan Erasmus issued an order, in the form of a warrant of detention, that Mafe be referred for an enquiry to the Eastern Cape hospital.

The order to the head of the hospital reads: “Whereas it appears/is alleged that Zandile Christmas Mafe charged with the crime of terrorism and arson and detained by Fort England on an order granted by the Judge of the Western Cape High Court, was suffering from mental illness and or intellectual disability at the time of the committing of the offence is by reason of mental illness or intellectual disability not capable of understanding the proceedings and it is expedient that he should be removed to and or admitted to Fort England for enquiry for 30 days.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Parliament arson suspect refuses Valkenberg hospital observation- demands-alternative-psychiatric-facility

In terms of the order the hospital is to enquire whether Mafe, by reason of mental illness and/or intellectual disability, is:

  1. Capable of understanding the court proceedings as to make a proper defence; and/or
  2. At the time of the commission of the offence, to what extent the capacity of the accused to appreciate the wrongfulness of the act in question and to act in accordance with an appreciation of the wrongfulness of his act at the time of commission thereof, was affected by mental illness or intellectual disability or any other cause.

A clean-shaven Mafe, in a grey suit, appeared more relaxed and listened attentively as the proceedings were explained to him by an interpreter. This time, there were no theatrics.

Erasmus had a virtual conference with both the State and defence before issuing the order, where the logistics of Mafe’s referral to the Eastern Cape, preferential treatment, and the appointment of an independent psychiatrist to evaluate him were discussed.

“Following this virtual agreement, the two parties and I decided that the order would be completed on Tuesday, March 28th, referring Mafe to the Eastern Cape subject to certain logistical arrangements,” said Erasmus.

“Correspondence between the directors of Public Prosecution in the Western and Eastern capes, as well as the director-general of the National Health Department, Dr Sandile Buthelezi, culminated in the referral of Mafe to the Eastern Cape being approved.”

Mafe is accused of setting fire to the National Assembly building in the early hours of 2 January 2022. He faces charges of terrorism, arson, housebreaking, theft and possession of explosives.

A day after his arrest, district surgeon Dr Zelda van Tonder declared that Mafe was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. On 4 January 2022, prosecutor Helene Booysen submitted an assessment report from Van Tonder. 

Based on this report, an order was granted by Magistrate Zamekile Mbalo on 4 January 2022, sending Mafe to Valkenberg Hospital for 30 days of observation. But that referral was set aside by Western Cape High Court Judge President John Hlophe.

During his last appearance on Friday, 10 February, Mafe said he was ready to be transferred to another facility for mental observation, provided it was anywhere but Valkenberg. On Tuesday, Erasmus did not go into the merit of the allegations against this hospital because it is subject to an investigation by the Health Department.

Luvuyo Godla, Mafe’s legal representative, expressed satisfaction that the Health Department will examine his client’s allegations.

“My client is not opposed to mental assessment. He is comfortable that he requested that he not be referred to Valkenberg Hospital,” he said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Case of alleged Parliament arsonist remains on ice as concerns mount over psychiatric evaluation waiting times

Meanwhile, Western Cape National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) regional spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila said that, following the 30-day observation a report will be submitted to the office of Erasmus as well as the Director of Public Prosecutions in Makhanda. The report will then be shared by Erasmus’s office with the NPA and the defence.

“The psychiatrists were basically ordered to look at whether Mafe had the capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of what he was doing, whether he has the capacity to appreciate what is happening now, and whether he has the capacity to provide defence to the charges that he is facing,” said Ntabazalila.

Once the report is finalised Mafe will be send back to Pollsmoor Prison until his next court appearance. His pretrial hearing will continue in the Western Cape High Court on 8 May. DM


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