Eastern Cape man wrongfully imprisoned for 4,015 days

24 March 2019 - 00:00 By BONGANI FUZILE


Early one morning in September 2008, in Molteno in the Eastern Cape, police kicked open the door of the house where Uhuru Qele, was living with his grandmother. He was taken to Queenstown, about 100km away, and charged - along with a group of men - in a tavern shooting that left one dead and two injured.
Despite the tavern owner and his son testifying that they did not see Qele at the scene, he was convicted along with four others. They were sentenced to 45 years in prison.
Eleven years later, on March 8, Qele walked free after the high court in Bhisho ruled that he had been convicted of a crime he did not commit.
But the 35-year-old man, whose name means freedom in Swahili, has no idea how to start piecing his life together.
Before his arrest, Qele was intent on getting a job as a security guard. As the first-born, he had dreams of assisting his parents and one day moving into his own place with a wife and children.
When he was released last week, it was with conflicting emotions.
"I was not sure if I should celebrate this freedom or cry for the time I wasted in that prison. This wrongful incarceration robbed me of my youth and opportunities in life.
"On the day I was convicted I raised my hand to tell the judge I was appealing the conviction.
"But I didn't know that day will come after 11 years."
In prison, he converted to Islam. "I prayed and I was helped by believing that I will walk free from that place," he said.
"I am free now. I've spent more than 4,000 days in jail and was treated like a hardened criminal. I was beaten up, I nearly lost my life in there and I will never recover from that trauma."
Due to his injuries he now has to use a catheter.
Qele and three co-accused appealed their convictions. Only Qele's conviction was overturned. In the appeal ruling, which was handed down on January 31, judges John Smith and Murray Lowe and acting judge Sindile Toni found that a statement made by Qele to the investigating officer should have been ruled inadmissible by acting judge Shylock Ndengezi, as it had been coerced. Therefore, the panel found there was insufficient evidence against Qele to justify his conviction.
His father, Vuyisile Qele, said his son had always maintained his innocence. "He will depend on us now but we will deal with police and justice on this matter. We need to redress this," he said.

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