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JUDICIARY IN CRISIS

Citrusdal murder case linked to taxi industry violence risks being struck off the roll because of high court backlogs

Citrusdal murder case linked to taxi industry violence risks being struck off the roll because of high court backlogs
The Western Cape Division of the High Court in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

A 2021 murder case against three suspects linked to the Western Cape taxi industry could shed new light on violence associated with the sector. But it’s at risk of being struck off the roll due to the Western Cape Division of the High Court’s backlog of cases.

A pre-trial hearing to set a trial date for three suspects accused of murdering two men in Citrusdal in 2021 may be struck off the roll in the Western Cape Division of the High Court.

The case could shed further light on the taxi violence that recently gripped the Western Cape as the accused are linked to the taxi industry and allegedly murdered two people who were transporting farmworkers. The case also highlights the Western Cape Division of High Court’s ongoing backlogs.

The case against the three accused, Kabelo Michael Makoetlane, Mohow Mofetoli and Vuyisile Ngcibi, was one of seven heard before Judge Robert Henney on Friday, 1 September. A further six cases were heard in Judge Hayley Slingers’ courtroom.

The pre-trial hearing began about two hours late, owing to a civil matter that Judge Henney needed to attend to. Makoetlane, Mofetoli and Ngcibi were appearing for the sixth time to set a trial date. 

Link to taxi industry 

The case stems from a double murder dating back to August 2021. The three are accused of murdering Barnito Januarie (34) and Jefrey Veleon (43), who were shot and killed in a bus at a farmworker pick-up point on Voortrekker Road in Citrusdal.

At the time of the incident, Mouton Citrus was providing its workers with transportation from its farm to various destinations. Oerson Januarie was awarded one of Mouton Citrus’s contracts for farmworker transportation in May 2021. His son Barnito and Veleon worked for him as bus drivers.

The summary of facts states that the accused trio and Zakhele Mkhontwana were members of the Cape Amalgamated Taxi Association (Cata). Makoetlane was the owner of a taxi business in Citrusdal and belonged to the Citrusdal Taxi Association (CTA). Mkhontwana was chairperson of the CTA at the time but has subsequently died. Mofetoli was employed by Makoetlane, while Ngcibi was the owner of a taxi business in Ceres. 

“On the morning of 11 August 2021, the accused together with Mkhontwana were seen in a taxi belonging to Makoetlane at the pick-up point for the Mouton Citrus workers,” the State said in the summary of substantial facts. 

“When the three accused and Mkhontwana alighted [sic] the vehicle, Makoetlane was seen handing a firearm to Mkhontwana, hereafter referred to as the shooter. Januarie was the first driver to arrive on the scene followed by Veleon. Shortly thereafter several shots were fired at the deceased, whereafter the accused fled the scene.” 

After two years, there has been no justice for the families of the two murdered men as the case is still not ready for trial.

On Friday, the matter was postponed to 20 October, after the State prosecutor, advocate Evadne Kortje, informed the court that the defence had requested cellphone data, which the investigating officer said would be ready in two weeks.

Makoetlane’s lawyer, Charles Simons, interjected saying: “Your Honour, my client intends to bring a bail application with new facts in 14 days on grounds that there is no case against my client. My client has been imprisoned for two years. My client is against another postponement.”

Judge Henney interrupted: “The State runs the risk of having this matter struck off the roll at the next appearance. If you feel there is unreasonable delay and feel you can bring an application in terms of section 342 (A) of the Criminal Procedure Act striking the matter of the roll, then you are free to do so.”

It is not the first time that Henney has raised his concerns about there being no judges to deal with pre-trial hearings.

Court delays

The pre-trial matter in the case against Nafiz Modack and others accused of several crimes, including the assassination of Lieutenant-Colonel Charl Kinnear, also needs to be finalised in the Western Cape High Court.

Another pre-trial case needing to be finalised related to the trial of a group of men accused of the August 2017 murder of “Steroid King” Brian Wainstein in Cape Town. It was meant to have already proceeded but has not because of a shortage of judges. A trial date of July 2024 was subsequently proposed. News24 quoted Judge Henney as saying: “There’s no use having further pretrials in this court because nothing can run. There’s no judges to deal with it.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Charges against murdered ‘Steroid King’ reveal a global web of crime cases.

The court’s backlogs were also flagged early last year, ahead of Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe’s suspension.

In April 2022, Daily Maverick’s Marianne Thamm reported: “Judge President John Hlophe sent a memorandum to all judges and acting judges in Western Cape pointing out that 39 reserved judgments had been outstanding for more than three months, the limit set out by the judges’ norms and standards.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘High-risk’ gang cases exacerbate Western Cape High Court backlog and spark concerns for those awaiting justice

Furthermore, the 2021-2022 Annual Judiciary Report stipulated that at the end of the financial year, “The total number of outstanding criminal cases in the various Divisions of the High Court was 917, whereas the total number of backlog cases was 453, representing a backlog percentage of 49%.” DM

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