IN THE DOCK
Senzo Meyiwa murder trial resumes with a cloud hanging over presiding judge
Almost nine years after soccer star Senzo Meyiwa was gunned down in Vosloorus, it remains unclear if his death was the result of a botched robbery or if he was murdered — and if so, by whom? The trial resumed this week with a friend of Meyiwa's and a witness at the murder scene on that fateful evening testifying: 'I might have heard a second gunshot, I can’t be sure because the first one really freaked me out.'
Senzo Meyiwa was killed at his girlfriend Kelly Khumalo’s home in 2014 in the presence of Khumalo, her mother Ntombi, sister Zandi, Zandi’s boyfriend Longwe Twala and two of Meyiwa’s childhood friends, Mthokozisi Thwala and Tumelo Madlala.
The murder trial resumed at the Johannesburg High Court this week, after an adjournment of nearly six months, with a new witness and a cloud hanging over the presiding judge, Tshifhiwa Maumela.
Two days before the trial was due to commence, it emerged that Judge Maumela faced serious complaints relating to his failure to deliver numerous judgments within a reasonable period.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Senzo Meyiwa murder trial judge grumbles about time-wasting on ‘side issues’
The complaints were so serious that the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) said that if it was established they were accurate, they would indicate incapacity, gross incompetence or gross misconduct.
The commission advised President Cyril Ramaphosa to place the judge on suspension. The decision now lies with Ramaphosa, who has the prerogative to suspend a judge on the advice of the JSC.
The accused are Fisokuhle Ntuli, Muzikawukhulelwa Sibiya, Bongani Sandiso Ntanzi, Mthobisi Prince Mncube and Mthokoziseni Maphisa. All five face charges of murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, possession of firearms without a licence and possession of ammunition. They have pleaded not guilty.
What happened nine years ago?
Mthokozisi Thwala, the fourth State witness, is one of two of Meyiwa’s friends who were present when the murder occurred. Taking the stand, he testified about what unfolded on that day.
The court ruled that Thwala’s face should not be shown on camera or in photos while he testifies. This was also the case with the previous witness, Tumelo Madlala.
Thwala said the shooting happened minutes before he, Meyiwa and Madlala were about to leave the Khumalo home between 7.30 and 8.30pm.
The group were chatting and spoke about church. “I don’t know how a church topic came about, but I remember Kelly doing some dance moves, imitating a particular church as to how they would sing.”
It was after Kelly Khumalo’s dance moves that a gun-wielding intruder appeared from the kitchen and Longwe Twala stood up and ran outside. The intruder demanded their cellphones and money, and Thwala said they then realised that there was a second intruder, whom he could not describe.
Meyiwa moved towards the first intruder and a scuffle ensued in full view of the group and Khumalo’s young child, Christian.
Thwala said he removed the child from the scene, while Khumalo’s mother and sister Zandi attempted to fight off the intruders with Madlala’s crutches.
One shot or two fired?
Moments later, a shot rang out and they all scattered in shock.
Thwala said he ran outside. “I might have heard a second gunshot, I can’t be sure because the first one really freaked me out.”
The group carried Meyiwa to Khumalo’s car to rush him to hospital. Thwala recalled how he pleaded with Meyiwa to hang on for the sake of his children. “I held his face and said, ‘Senzo, Senzo, think of your children.’ ”
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Probed on Meyiwa’s wound, Thwala’s version of events was slightly different from those of the previous witness, Tumelo Madlala, who said that there was no blood oozing from Meyiwa’s wound while they travelled to hospital. Thwala said that there was blood visible and that he used a towel to cover the wound.
Thwala also told the court that he suffered at the hands of two police officers whom he identified as “Buthelezi” and “Makhubo”. The officers allegedly fetched him at his home in April 2019 on the pretext that suspects had been arrested and that he needed to identify them.
However, he was taken to an unknown building in Pretoria and left with two unidentified men who then tied him up and assaulted him overnight.
“They came in and took my phone and asked why I killed Senzo. I was still confused as to why they were assaulting me. They assaulted me until the sun came out — this was despite me kicking, screaming and apologising.
“I was screaming from inside the building. They kicked me while I was on the floor. They asked me to confess.”
Hours after being assaulted, the unknown men left, and one police officer, Buthelezi, returned and accused him of not wanting to cooperate. Buthelezi took Thwala to his Katlehong home and handed him over to his aunt.
“Buthelezi then told my aunt that they would come back and that I still needed to write another statement, saying I was not there when Senzo was shot.”
He was instructed to send the statement to the police officer via WhatsApp.
“I wrote the statement, but I wrote it according to my own version of events, according to how it happened and not in the manner she told me or she wanted me to write it.
“I did not do what they asked. I sent what was true. In fact, I still have the statement on my WhatsApp and Buthelezi’s number.”
The court heard that Thwala opened a case against the police officers who allegedly assaulted him.
Thwala testified how two years after his friend’s death, he was approached by representatives of Ten10 films to be part of a Netflix documentary looking into the killing of the star, but refused.
“They tried to convince me many times, but to me, the reasons that they gave were not valid for me to be part of the documentary where I would speak about Senzo.”
Not only did Thwala refuse to be part of the film, but he also told the court that he refused payment for pictures of him and Meyiwa.
“They requested my pictures with Senzo and they said they were willing to pay for the pictures because they belong to me. I gave them about six pictures because I could see this documentary was for making money. I even refused the money they offered,” he said.
When the trial resumed on Tuesday, the court heard the defence’s intention to possibly recall three witnesses to have certain issues clarified. However, Maumela ruled against this, saying it would be dealt with at a later stage.
“The reason I think we should not embark on a full-blown tussle around this matter is that I know that whenever questions will be raised or put to witnesses, the State shall be there to determine if it wishes to object.
“My sense is that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be hindered from progressing.”
The trial is expected to run until 26 May and reconvene again on 5 June. DM