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Sunday Times STLive By SIPHO MASONDO and SAPA, 2010-08-08

Journalist released after late-night court interdict

Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika made a brief appearance in the Nelspruit Regional Court on Friday and has been released on R5 000 bail.

National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga says he appeared with a man called Victor Mlimi and they were ordered to surrender their passports, not leave the country, not interfere with state witnesses and report to their nearest police station once a week between 8am and 8pm.

Wa Afrika was charged with fraud, forgery and uttering. Uttering involves circulating money or a document that is fake.

The case was postponed to November 8 for further investigation. Mhaga said he could not disclose who the state witness was at this stage.

Wa Afrika was originally to have faced charges of fraud and defeating the ends of justice following his public arrest in Rosebank on Wednesday, but on Thursday prosecutors declined to enrol the matter.

However, he was not released, and the case was reinstated later that day. His lawyers successfully applied for his release in an urgent application in the High Court in Pretoria on Thursday night.

Wa Afrika was interrogated at 2.30am on Thursday and was asked by a General Mapiyane, who is reportedly second-in-command in Mpumalanga's crime intelligence, why he had written a story claiming Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza had resigned.

''I told him to search on Google to see if he will find such a story. He told me that he didn't like my attitude,'' wa Afrika was quoted as saying.

Another police official, a warrant officer Molapo, reportedly asked him why he was writing about Mpumalanga ''as there were eight other provinces to write about''.

wa Afrika also alleged that Hawks spokesman Musa Zondi went to his home to collect his cellphone, although his lawyer Eric van der Berg said he would collect it.

''I want to know what a guy who is not a police official was doing with my phone,'' said wa Afrika.

Reports had suggested his arrest could be related to his being in possession of a resignation letter purportedly signed by Mabuza, but which the premier had declared a fake.

Wa Afrika co-wrote an article that appeared in the Sunday Times about a document national police commissioner General Bheki Cele allegedly signed, which related to a R500-million lease agreement for police headquarters in Pretoria.

The Sunday Times reported that this was a lease agreement that had not gone out to tender as required for expenditure exceeding R500000.

At a briefing convened to clarify what Cele called the ''incorrect and worse, misleading'' article, the police general told reporters in Pretoria on Tuesday that the document was not a lease agreement, but a ''needs assessment''.

Sunday Times editor Ray Hartley said the paper had a copy of the signed lease agreement in its possession.

The paper also published a scanned copy of the resignation letter thought to be at the centre of wa Afrika's woes.

Wa Afrika's arrest came a day after Cele called him a ''very shady journalist'', and when asked if he would take action against the reporter, he replied: ''Time will tell''.

After being released wa Afrika said ''I'm happy to be out. The truth has set me free and it will continue to set us free.''

''I knew I would get bail. They didn't and don't have a case against me. Is it a crime to receive a fax?''

He said the whole drama has inspired him to work harder. ''This will not bring me down. It has given me the inspiration to work harder. I will work harder to get closer to the truth.''

  • Meanwhile, Chandre Prince reports that a Pretoria High Court acting judge said: ''One minute spent in custody is one minute too much'' as he ordered wa Afrika's release on Thursday night. Acting judge Johan Kruger said that while the police have powers of safeguarding the community, the freedom of an individual is of constitutional value.

His order came after a day of confusion in which police refused to release the journalist even after three Mpumalanga prosecutors had declined to prosecute on the basis of insufficient evidence.

The Sunday Times then launched an urgent application in the high court to secure wa Afrika's release.

After negotiations between the newspaper's lawyers and the police's legal team, it was agreed that wa Afrika would be released from Nelspruit police station last night into the care of the Sunday Times' lawyer, Eric van den Berg.

Until late on Thursday night, the police had given contradictory information about wa Afrika's whereabouts and had refused to release him, despite the National Prosecuting Authority's decision not to charge him.

At one stage, Zondi told Van den Berg that the journalist was being driven from Nelspruit to Pretoria, though this was not the case. He later told a Sunday Times reporter that wa Afrika was being held at the Waterval Boven police cells. He then said the reporter was at the Nelspruit Central police station.

Arnold Meyer, senior counsel for the Sunday Times, said on Thursday night: ''The mere fact that they kept him for a day without legal representation is in itself suspicious.''

Advocate Salie Joubert SC, representing the police, opposed wa Afrika's release, saying there was a prima facie case of either fraud or defeating the ends of justice.

After Thursday's ruling, Sunday Times editor, Ray Hartley said: ''We are extremely happy that Mzilikazi has been released. We are however disappointed that the Hawks want to continue with the case. My advice to them is when you are in a hole stop digging.''

Hartley earlier condemned the police for refusing to release wa Afrika, saying it was ''nothing less than the detention without trial of a journalist.''