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Warning issued over delays in Senzo Meyiwa murder trial – ‘Memories fade and witnesses forget’

Warning issued over delays in Senzo Meyiwa murder trial – ‘Memories fade and witnesses forget’
A suspect during the Senzo Meyiwa murder trial in the Pretoria High Court. (Photo: Gallo Images / OJ Koloti)

The five men accused of the murder of soccer star Senzo Meyiwa have been in custody since 26 October 2020, and the trial began on 25 April 2022.

The Senzo Meyiwa murder trial in the Pretoria High Court hit yet another snag on Tuesday — an unavailable interpreter. The prosecutor, advocate George Baloyi, said it was beyond the State’s control to resume with cross-examination of the fourth witness, while the presiding judge warned of the financial implications a delay has on the five accused men.  

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. 

The cross-examination by one of the defence lawyers of Mthokozisi Thwala, a friend of Meyiwa and a witness to the murder, was scheduled to resume on Tuesday, but had to be rolled over to Wednesday because the interpreter failed to report for duty.

Judge Tshifhiwa Maumela granted Baloyi’s request to postpone the matter, but warned it was unacceptable and had consequences for all involved.

“It inconveniences people even beyond what we see ordinarily for everybody to be here. On the part of the accused, it might even have financial consequences. In future, let us avoid this kind of thing. Everyone… should be made aware that when something beyond control happens, communication should be in time enough for alternative arrangements to be made.”   

senzo meyiwa suspects

Suspects during the Senzo Meyiwa murder trial in the Pretoria High Court. (Photo: Gallo Images / OJ Koloti)

Baloyi said the State would endeavour to ensure that this did not happen again and would seek the services of two interpreters from Wednesday.   

The matter was also postponed last week after defence advocate Sipho Ramosele said he was not feeling well.

The head of the criminal law department at Ulrich Roux and Associates, JP Venter, said it was unfortunate that the matter had encountered yet another “systematic delay” as it had been set down to proceed about six months ago.

Another legal expert, advocate Manny Witz, said the unavailability of interpreters was a common problem as they were “casual workers” not contracted by the Department of Justice.

Read more in Daily Maverick:  Senzo Meyiwa murder trial judge grumbles about time-wasting on ‘side issues’  

Witz said the longer the trial dragged on, the higher the chances were of inconsistencies with witnesses’ testimonies. “It makes a huge difference — memories fade and witnesses forget. The longer the delays, the worse it gets for both the State and the accused.”

None of the accused has been granted bail. They have been in custody since 26 October 2020.

Complaints against judge

Presiding Judge Maumela faces serious complaints relating to his failure to deliver judgments within a reasonable period.   

Read more in Daily Maverick: Senzo Meyiwa murder trial resumes with a cloud hanging over presiding judge  

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) said if it was established the complaints were accurate, they would indicate incapacity, gross incompetence or gross misconduct. The commission advised President Cyril Ramaphosa to place the judge on suspension.

Commenting on this, Witz said, “I am sure now that [Maumela]  is under the spotlight, he will want to try and finish as soon as possible so that he can get his own life in order. They will try to work through to try to make up for lost time.”

Thwala has already been cross-examined by advocate Sipho Ramosepele, a defence lawyer representing two of the five accused men. 

During his testimony, Thwala said Meyiwa was shot dead during a botched robbery. This occurred at the Vosloorus house of the soccer star’s girlfriend, Kelly Khumalo, on 26 October 2014.

Thwala testified that two intruders, one armed with a gun and the other with a sharp object, entered the house and demanded money and cellphones. He said he ran outside and Meyiwa fought with the gun-wielding intruder. DM

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