'I did not even see the corpse'

He has been found guilty of a crime he did not commit, Simon Mathebula told the Phalaborwa Circuit Court on Wednesday during deliberations on the sentence he should receive for tossing farmworker Nelson Chisale to lions in Hoedspruit last year.

“I did not even see the corpse ... of the deceased,” Mathebula (43) told Judge George Maluleke, who is hearing the case with assessors Kate Choshi and Elphus Seemela.

“I want to make that clear to his family,” he added under cross-examination by prosecutor Ivy Thenga, while on the stand giving evidence in mitigation of sentence.

“I do not want them to feel bad or hate me because of this, because I did not commit this crime.

“All I know about him [Chisale] is that he was a friend of mine who used to visit me at my place and as he was about to leave, I would see him off,” Mathebula told the court, adding that he and Chisale had belonged to the same church—St John’s.

Asked what had prevented him from saving Chisale on the day of his death—January 31 last year—Mathebula responded: “I said something.”

He had asked co-accused Richard “Doctor” Mathebula (41) why he did not let Chisale go, but was asked in return: “Will you explain this to the owner of the farm [Mark Scott-Crossley] after?”

Told that this was the first time the court was hearing this evidence, Mathebula responded that it was possibly because he had become confused as a result of the noise in the cells where he was kept and that there were a lot of people who smoked there.

Given an opportunity to say something to the communities involved in the case, Mathebula said he would “tell them the same things” he had had to say to Chisale’s family.

“That is that they should not take me for a bad person, hate me, because I did not commit this. Because I did not even see the deceased’s body,” he reiterated.
“When I last saw him he was alive, standing on his feet.”

Mathebula accused Richard Mnisi, against whom charges were withdrawn after he turned state witness, Scott-Crossley (37) and Doctor Mathebula—to whom he is not related—of cleverly making sure he did not see any of what they had done.

Mnisi was, according to him “a very bad person”, he told the court. However, Doctor Mathebula had just been “there with them” and did not “physically do anything or say anything”.

He explained to the court that, as an employer, Scott-Crossley’s word was final.

“Nobody could tell him anything else after he made a decision.”

Mathebula was detailing to the court incidents during which Scott-Crossley had dismissed workers “in a terrible manner”, when Scott-Crossley brought proceedings to a halt, interrupting the prosecutor’s cross-examination to tell his defence counsel, Johann Engelbrecht, that he was no longer on trial.

He had already been tried, Scott-Crossley complained.

It is understood he later threatened to “take out” his entire legal team if things did not go his way when it came to the imposition of a sentence—expected only on Friday.

Engelbrecht would not confirm this. He knows nothing of such a threat, he said.

It emerged earlier in Wednesday’s hearing that Scott-Crossley has a previous conviction for a theft committed in 1986, for which he was sentenced to five strokes with a light cane. Simon Mathebula’s record is clean, the court was told.

Scott-Crossley was convicted in April of masterminding the premeditated murder of Chisale and of helping to feed him alive to a pride of five lions held captive in an encampment in Hoedspruit. Simon Mathebula was found to have acted in concert.

Scott-Crossley and Mathebula both pleaded not guilty to murder when their trial started at the end of January, as did Doctor Mathebula, but his trial was separated from theirs after he fell ill with suspected tuberculosis and had to be hospitalised.

“The court is pleased to note that your health has improved somewhat,” Maluleke told the gaunt Doctor Mathebula, who was bought to court with Scott-Crossley and Simon Mathebula on Wednesday.

However, the order that he be tried separately still stands, Maluleke told him, ruling that his case be adjourned to another date. He ordered that Doctor Mathebula be held in custody in the court cells until Thenga could reach his advocate Mathews Kekana, in Pretoria, and arrange a date to which the trial could be formally postponed.—Sapa

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