Load-shedding delays justice as Vlakfontein murder suspects sent to new court
The bail application of two men accused of the gruesome murders of members of the Khoza family has been transferred to the Protea Magistrate's Court after another power outage.
The decision comes after power outages at the Lenasia Magistrate's Court on two consecutive days.
The state had told the court on Tuesday — when 61-year-old Fita Khupe and his 27-year-old co-accused were expected to apply for bail — that the outage was caused by burnt wires. The matter was postponed to Wednesday but on Wednesday the court was told that there was load-shedding.
"I really don't know what to say ... We were excited to get going. At 9am, the electricity went off again. I was informed it was load-shedding," said magistrate Maggie van der Merwe.
"I am transferring the matter to Protea [Magistrate's Court] so they can allocate a date for a bail hearing."
She said she was bound by the law to not postpone the matter for more than seven days.
"I am bound by the statute. The other bail applications I have postponed are in violation of the Criminal Procedure Act," she said.
Since the power outages hit the court on Tuesday, Van der Merwe has been writing out the postponement of cases in long hand. She had to explain to the accused that their cases would be postponed because of the power outage and the fact that she was going on leave from next week.
"All the courts will be closed on Friday... I am not available for the next two weeks," she said.
Van der Merwe was initially reluctant to transfer the case to the Protea Magistrate's Court because branch courts had been given instructions not to transfer bail applications to that court.
"We are a branch court. The regional court president has given strict instructions that no bail applications must be done at Protea Magistrate's Court.
"It is clear that lower courts may not postpone bail proceedings for a period exceeding seven days. I will be transferring this matter to the main court. We are bound by the seven-day rule," Van der Merwe said.
Radasi Sekgatja, the lawyer representing Kuphe, said: "We are not amiable to postponing the matter for more than seven days. Any period longer will prejudice the accused. We are of the view that the matter be transferred to another court."
The lawyer for the 27-year-old, Gerhard Landman, said it would be a travesty of justice for him to remain in custody because there was no electricity.
"It's a violation of the accused's rights," he said.
The 27-year-old suspect was alleged to have introduced himself to the Khoza family under the false name of Sibusiso Khoza, claiming to be long-lost relative. He connected with them via Facebook. The court has since heard that this was not his real name and he is an illegal immigrant from Zimbabwe.
He was arrested while trying to cross the border back to Zimbabwe just days after the decomposed bodies of the family members were found by police.
He may not be named because he is facing an additional rape charge and has not yet pleaded.
Vlakfontein residents have signed a petition demanding that the two men be denied bail.