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Stand-off ensues between defense and judge in Meyiwa trial

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Tempers flared in the Senzo Meyiwa murder trial on Wednesday afternoon as defense counsel for accused 1 and 2, Advocate Thulani Mngomezulu, accused Judge Ratha Mokgoatlheng of interfering with his cross-examination of the witness.

In an apparent stand-off between Mngomezulu and Mokgoatlheng, sounding apparently peeved the defense advocate requested matters to be stood down, but the judge, seemingly calm throughout the impasse, would not give in.

“My lord, must I still proceed with the cross-examination?,” asked Mngomezulu angrily.

This when Mngomezulu put it to the lead investigator in the Senzo Meyiwa murder case, Brigadier Bongani Gininda, that his client, Muzi Sibiya, was formerly charged in relation to Meyiwa’s murder in August 2020, but was only served with a notice of his rights (SAP14 A) in relation to that arrest almost two months later, a day before his 27 October 2020 court appearance.

Gininda denied this saying Sibiya was formerly charged in relation to Meyiwa’s murder on the 26th of October 2020 and on the same day, he was served with a notice of his rights before making his first appearance at the Boksburg Magistrate’s Court the following day.

The head of the National Cold Case unit, who says the Meyiwa murder case was assigned to him by the then National Police Commissioner Khehla Sithole in 2018, told the court that copies of the warrant of arrest, the notice of rights as well as the charge sheet were contained in the docket which the defense had since the start of the trial.

Battles lines drawn…

The judge referred to a charge sheet, which he argued corroborated the witness’ evidence, and from there, the gloves were off.

Judge: I have a charge sheet here that says Exhibit EE, date of first appearance 27/10/2020. Accused 1 is Sibiya, number 2 Ntanzi, number 3 Mncube, number 4 Maphisa and number 5 is Ntuli. Is this what you are referring to, sir?

Gininda: That’s what I am referring to.

Judge: Yeah, let’s show some people here because it appears I know the case better some people here. Just show counsel also there because according to this witness, that tallies with what this witness is saying, not that there was an appearance in August.

Mngomezulu: My lord…

Judge: No, no, we are not arguing. Wait, wait, Mr Mngomezulu. Let them show you that document and show the others, because that is what this witness is saying.

Mngomezulu’s ire was gradually rising.

Mngomezulu: My lord, must I still proceed with cross-examination?

Judge: Yes, yes.

Mngomezulu: But now if the court keeps interjecting?

Judge: No, I’m not interjecting.

Mngomezulu: (Voice raised) I am still coming to the issue of the charge sheet, my lord. I just want to clarify this because now the court wants to … eish (banging on his chest). The reason why I am dwelling on this aspect. This is the first time to hear about the J50 (warrant of arrest). I need to thoroughly consult with accused 1 and number 2, to my satisfaction, so that I can proceed to cross-examine the witness, especially on the charge sheet. There are certain parts in the docket where accused 1 has just indicated to me that he wants to be shown the a part where his thumb print was placed on the docket.

No end in sight…

With no sight to the end of the end of the deadlock, Judge Mokgoatlheng accused the counsel of badgering the witness on the issue, saying that, subsequently, called for him to interject with the charge sheet, denying he was interfering with the counsel’s cross-examination.

Mngomezulu’s attempt to put an end to it all with a request for an adjournment came a cropper, too.

Mngomezulu: My lord, I will request an adjournment, because if the court is disturbing my cross-examination, you are taking me out of the line.

Judge: No, I can’t.

Mngomezulu: May I stand the matter down until tomorrow?

The judge has argued the court was entitled to offer clarity when there’s confusion between the counsel and the witness and there was a document handed to assist.

Ill-prepared?

Unyielding, Mngomezulu posited that he had not gone through the document, unbeknown to him that he was inviting more attacks from the judge, who came close to accusing him of being ill-prepared despite being in possession of the entire docket.

“The defense never read the copies. That’s what Mr Mngomezulu says. He never read the copies,” charged the judge. “He (Gininda) says the copies were furnished to the defense and I am saying the defense never read the copies because you are saying you want to familiarise yourself with the copies.”

The big lecture…

But Mokgoathleng was not done yet, giving Mngomezulu a lecture on how the defense should prepare.

“Before counsel stands up and examines a witness like this, counsel has prepared, he has read the papers, he has read the charge sheet, he has read everything. That’s how I know it is being done. You read everything so that when you cross-examine this witness, you are informed of the case you want to present to him and you are informed of the state’s case. But you, Mr Mngomezulu, you stand up and say you haven’t read these documents and this witness tells you what he has done and now, we are talking at cross-purposes.”

To his defense, Mngomezulu says he only joined the trial at the stage of the trial within a trial about the admissibility of confession statements by accused 1 and 2, pointings-out by accused 2 as well as warning statements by the three other accused.

Mngomezulu has requested Gininda to bring a docket to indicate the date on which the accused was formerly charged.

The trial will continue tomorrow with Gininda back on the stand, to face further cross-examination from the defense.

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