Four charged with taxi killings walk free, as judge slams 'hopeless' prosecution
A taxi war involving three murders and four kidnappings has gone unpunished because of what a judge called a “hopelessly poor” prosecution.
Judge Mbulelo Jolwana freed four men charged with the crimes, saying that although “it is clear they may have been involved in some way”, the state had botched its case “beyond redemption”.
Delivering a scathing attack on the police and the National Prosecuting Authority, Jolwana told the Mthatha high court: “The state made no attempt ... to achieve a just outcome.
“This was a costly travesty of justice at its best which obviously reinforced the sense of impunity in some of the violent crimes in this country.”
The defendants, all taxi drivers or owners in Mthatha, were accused of unleashing a campaign of killings, arson, kidnapping, violence and terror in revenge for the killing of a taxi driver in 2010.
Thuso Solani, Gcinikhaya Canzibe and Malusi Filiya were murdered; Solani, Avela Tuswa and Bulelani Filiya were kidnapped; a house was burnt down; and there were three attempted murders.
But the judge said the crimes were not investigated for seven years. Then the state produced only two witnesses who implicated the accused, and their evidence was so contradictory that it was “rendered totally incredible”.
The other state witnesses were mostly police officers, whose evidence proved nothing more than “the undisputed fact that the deceased had died”.
On top of this, said Jolwana, no evidence was found at crime scenes, possibly because in some cases “crime scene experts were not even called”.
Jolwana thanked prosecutor Koos Joubert for throwing in the towel after taking over from his colleague Done Trietsch.
“He made an upfront concession that the presentation of the state’s case left much to be desired,” said the judge.
He granted a defence application to dismiss the case after the prosecution ended, and said although Joubert became involved only at a late stage, “he realised that calling other witnesses would be flogging a dead horse”.
Jolwana added: “This is not to say that some or all of the accused were not involved in some of the crimes.”
But allowing the case to continue would have been unconstitutional because it would have amounted to a “fishing expedition” in which the defendants could incriminate themselves.
The four defendants were Makabongwe Tutshana, Jongikhaya Mhlauli, Simphiwe Matu and Aviwe Lobi.