Triple farm murder trial draws to a close

Evidence against the accused mounts in the Sherwood farm murder case as state prosecutor Dheelan Naidoo shows up glaring inconsistencies in testimony. Sean Christie reports.

Triple farm murder trial draws to a close
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Judgement in the trial of murder accused Mzwandile Magubane (21) who stands accused of murdering Lorraine Karg, Hilda Linyane, and Zakeue Mhlongo, was imminent at the time of going to print. Acting judge MT Ncube will hand down judgement in the Pietermaritzburg High Court. Things do not look good for Magubane, who in March caused the case to be remanded to 16 July when he fired his state-appointed attorney. There was little his new attorney, Thabo Mbeko, could do when proceedings resumed.

Magubane counter-accused the police who interrogated him in the Mooi River police station of torture by ‘tubing’ him (suffocation with a wet tube covered in pepper spray), and administering electric shocks to his genitals. A trial within a trial was held to determine whether the pointing-out of the crime scene conducted on the day of the alleged torture was

Mzwandile Magubane (left) and Nhlanhla Patrick Dladla.

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Magubane was cross-examined on events by state-prosecutor Dheelan Naidoo, who quizzed him in minute detail on photographs contained in the pointing-out. Magubane was no match for Naidoo, who highlighted the glaring inconsistencies between versions of Magubane’s story put across by his current and his former attorney. The judge found that the pointing-out was admissible and dismissed the notion that the accused had been beaten. With that, the state closed its case in what has been an intriguing and emotional trial. It was then up to the accused to rebut the evidence against him.

This included a palm print on the wall of the farmhouse laundry, the information contained in the pointing-out, the testimony of a truck driver who dropped Magubane and two others 500m from Sherwood Farm on the day of the murders and two remote controls for the garden gates of the Sherwood farmhouse, found in the possession of the accused. Magubane’s attorney informed the court that his client had chosen to remain silent. “I find myself in a difficult position…My client’s decision to remain silent has tied my hands,” said Mbeko, as he closed the defence.

Magubane did not act alone. In his pointing-out he identified Colin Mapalala as the person who killed Lorraine Karg and Hilda Linyane, and himself as the killer of Zakeue Mhlongo. Nhlanhla Dladla (22), who was employed on Sherwood Farm at the time the murders were committed was identified as the person who stole the remotes and let the killers onto the property. Dladla was originally accused number two in the trial.

Linking him to the murders was the testimony of Velaphi Magubane, brother of Mzwandile, who was discovered in possession of a firearm when the police raided the Magubane home in Hlatikulu near Estcourt in July 2010. Velaphi Magubane agreed to become a state witness but recanted his statement on the second day of the trial, saying it had been made under duress, and Dladla walked.

Mapalala was killed in police custody in Mooi River police station in July 2010. The Independent Complaints Directorate accepted that he had attempted to seize an officer’s firearm. That left Mzwandile Magubane to face the crimes alone. His brother Velaphi was re-arrested when he stepped out of the witness box and charged with illegal possession of a firearm, which carries a minimum sentence of 10 years.

When the lawyer for the defence, Mbeko, asked investigating officer Derek Coetzee why the Pietermaritzburg Organised Crime Unit had become involved in the case, Coetzee answered, “because it’s a farm murder and farm murders are priority crimes, so we have to get involved whether we’d like to or not”. Naidoo chipped in, “And they’re food producers, we need them.”

The track record of the organised crime unit contradicts a popular perception in agricultural circles that the police are inefficient and that the state has turned its back on commercial farmers. The unit, led by Colonel Pete Scott, has investigated 19 farm murders and has secured convictions in all of them.