'Shockingly lenient' murder sentence for Zuma's former pilot 'cannot be overturned'

04 June 2019 - 13:39 By Ernest Mabuza
The Supreme Court of Appeal says it does not have jurisdiction to determine an appeal against a sentence when the sentence was imposed by the high court, sitting as an appeal court.
The Supreme Court of Appeal says it does not have jurisdiction to determine an appeal against a sentence when the sentence was imposed by the high court, sitting as an appeal court.
Image: Thinkstock

A serious injustice appears to have been done by the high court in setting aside a 15-year sentence for murder and imposing a suspended sentence on a former presidential pilot who stabbed a man to death. 

But there is little the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) can do to remedy the situation.

In the case, a former pilot to then-president Jacob Zuma, Pule Ramolefi, was convicted for murder by the Alexandra Regional Court. The crime was committed in April 2013.

Ramolefi and his wife were at a car wash when he spotted Sibusiso Buthelezi, a young chemical engineer, with whom his wife had had an affair in the past.

Buthelezi allegedly attacked Ramolefi and in the course of the fight, Ramolefi stabbed Buthelezi twice. The fatal blow was one to the neck. 

Ramolefi was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment. He sought leave to appeal against both his conviction and sentence in the Johannesburg High Court but was granted only leave to appeal the sentence.

In November 2017, the high court imposed a new sentence of five years' imprisonment, wholly suspended for five years. The state was granted special leave to appeal against the new sentence. However, it transpired that the law did not allow the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) to hear an appeal by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) on a sentence imposed by a high court sitting as a court of appeal.

As a result, the SCA on Monday struck off the roll an appeal by the state as it did not have jurisdiction to determine it.

In its judgment, the SCA said the regional court had found that Ramolefi directly intended to kill Buthelezi.

"None of these findings was attacked on appeal. Those factual findings are binding on an appeal court considering an appeal against sentence," said acting judge of appeal Trevor Gorven.

Gorven said the high court was wrong in deciding that Ramolefi had been provoked when he murdered Buthelezi.

He said this was not a proper basis on which to approach the matter. "The wholly suspended sentence imposed by the high court is shocking in the circumstances. A serious injustice appears to have been done," said Gorven.

He said the sentence was shockingly lenient.

"If this court had jurisdiction to entertain an appeal, there is little doubt that the respondent would have received a sentence of a lengthy term of direct imprisonment," said Gorven. 


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