Scuffle breaks out between accused, warden in court at Meyiwa trial

Moments after the scuffle between the accused and one of the prison wardens in court at the Senzo Meyiwa murder trial in Pretoria.
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There was a scuffle in the Pretoria High Court on Monday morning between the accused in the Senzo Meyiwa murder trial and one of the prison wardens, Vusi Jele.

During the tea break, Jele could be heard ordering the accused who were sitting in the dock to go down, while they mumbled inaudibly, seemingly in refusal to follow the instruction.

He approached them, shouting “You will go down!”

It was the warden that first elbowed accused 3, Mthobisi Mncube, before a full-blown physical scuffle ensued between the warden, Mncube, Mthobisi Maphisa and Fisokuhle Ntuli.

According to Advocate Charles Mnisi, after consultation with his client, the accused were standing up to stretch themselves when they were confronted by the warden and instructed to sit as they normally sit during proceedings.

“Apparently, the gentleman would always command them to sit as they are sitting here as if the proceedings are on. He did that again and he told them if they didn’t want to take his instruction he would hit them. Then they said but this is an adjournment and he started to hit him with the shoulder. That’s the version I am getting,” says Mnisi.

Advocate Charles Nxumalo says he got the same version from the accused. However, the warden contradicted this version, saying he was merely doing his job of monitoring the accused in court when the scuffle broke out.

“Moments after the short adjournment, all the accused were standing … five or six minutes later, accused 4 was sitting on top like this (demonstrating by sitting casually on top of a court bench). I said ‘Ntuli’ (referring to Maphisa)… I am not familiar with their names, I said ‘Ntuli, you cannot sit like that’. He said you can’t tell me how to sit. Three of them were now howling saying sizokushaya (we will beat you),” says Jele.

He says this was not the first time the accused had refused to take his instructions even though the first time it happened on the 15th it did not end up in a physical fight.

“On the 15th, they did the same thing and the fourth accused was doing the same thing. Before we went down, he was sitting like this (once again demonstrating by casually sitting on top of a court bench). And I shouted again and said ‘you cannot sit like that’. We went down and I called them and I tried to address them and they told me it was not my issue to worry about. The orderly even saw that. I told them they were wrong and that they were my responsibility and that is the reason why I am here throughout the proceedings,” he explains.

He says today, they warned him not to come closer, before he did so and elbowing the third accused.

“They said sizokushaya (we’ll beat you up) if you come closer. I approached and I was trying to pull number 4. I went down like this and that is when I saw a blow coming my way. Accused 1 and 2 were not doing anything.”

Judge Ratha Mokgoatlheng, after listening to the legal counsel and Jele, has advised all parties involved in the scuffle to respect the court decorum.

“Let’s behave ourselves. There is nothing wrong with stretching. You can even jump but this thing of fighting in parliament. But if the gentleman believes you are not maintaining the decorum of the court he is allowed to have a word with you,” says the judge.

Proceedings had to be adjourned for a moment on account of a faulty recording machine.