/ 17 January 2006

Employees said to have witnessed laundry murders

Workers called to clean up blood were witnesses to the murder of three employees of Protea Dry Cleaners, the Vereeniging Magistrate’s Court heard on Tuesday.

Opposing a bail application by the four accused, investigating officer Inspector Sello Molapisi said he believed the state had a strong case.

Jocelyn Lesito (28) Victoria Ndweni (30) and Constance Moeletsi were strangled while working the night shift on January 3 and their bodies apparently stuffed into a washing machine. The bodies were later found in bins at the family-owned laundromat in Vereeniging.

Molapisi said on Tuesday that one of the victims was also pregnant.

Owner Charl Colyn, his daughter Isabel, son-in-law Jacques Smit and family friend Ruan Swanepoel were arrested on Thursday and Friday for the murders.

The four sat with with deadpan expressions throughout the proceedings with Colyn occasionally putting his arm around his daughter and asking her if she was alright

In their statements as to why they should be given bail, the four said they did not murder the people or arrange for them to be murdered.

The states’ case would appear to centre largely around the testimony of two other suspects — gardeners Samuel Mzizi (37) and Jacob Dlamini — who, after being arrested on January 10 admitted to being there when the murders took place.

Advocate Roelof Van Wyk for the defence team said this could be an example of how ”someone in trouble does strange things to get out of trouble”.

Police were still looking for another three suspects.

Statements from Colyn, his daughter, an employee and his son-in-law’s brother all say R4 000 was drawn as a loan for an employee whose brother had died on January 1.

The courtroom was packed to capacity with spectators, employees and family members who made disapproving sounds at intervals while the statements were being read.

When the accused were led into the courtroom murmurs and whistles erupted from the gallery.

Molapisi, as well as employees and an acquaintance of the four accused have linked the crimes to an alleged racist issue which had arisen from a labour dispute.

The defence attorney for the accused, who asked not to be named, said he would bring a summons against The Star newspaper for defamation in an article which he says proclaimed the accused as already guilty.

”This action is… on a racist basis. The real murderers are hiding out.”

Christine Mochadibane, who worked in the pressing department at the dry cleaner at the time of the murders, is also Jocelyn’s cousin: ”They hated us … we were fighting for the labour department,” she said, adding there were issues such as money and time off under contention.

Jocelyn’s mother Caroline Lesito and husband Thabang Chalo said she was not happy working there.

”They don’t deserve bail. My daughter is no more,” said Lesito.

Molapisi said bail would undermine public peace and security as it was a racist incident with a lot of media interest which had ”shocked” the community.

Colyn’s mother Bets Berkley said: ”The murderers are still on free feet. They are wasting time by keeping my son. They [the accused] are all innocent.”

The bail application hearing was postponed to Wednesday.

Forensic experts had yet to finish their investigations at the murder scene as the only two in the country were, according to Molapisi, both atttending to cases.

As the accused were led away Colyn wished his family good luck, with tears in his eyes. His daughter Isabel and son-in-law Smit were also appeared shaken. – Sapa