Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika will be released from detention ahead of his bail application in the Nelspruit Regional Court on Friday morning.
Handing down judgement in the High Court in Pretoria shortly before 10pm on Thursday night, Judge Johan Kruger said it was not in the best interest of the rule of law, and it would be unlawful
to detain Wa Afrika for one minute longer.
“The freedom of the individual is a constitutionally protected value and so is due process,” Kruger said.
“In the constitutional state, the Constitution reigns supreme. I am of the view that justice will be served if he is released. It is unlikely that a few hours of freedom should cause irrevocable harm to the state’s case. If we err, we err on the side of freedom.”
The Sunday Times earlier filed an urgent interdict to have the journalist released, following his arrest outside the paper’s office by members of the Hawks on Wednesday.
Wa Afrika’s lawyer Arnold Meyer SC told the court there was no reason why he should be detained, even if his release was only for a few hours.
He argued there was no basis for the Hawks to contend that[ releasing him so soon before his bail application would be pointless.
However, presenting the Hawks’s case, Salie Joubert said there was prima facie evidence that Wa Afrika should indeed face charges of defeating the ends of justice and fraud.
“There is no substance in the argument that he is being held unlawfully. If he is free today it will only be until 8.30am tomorrow morning.”
Speaking after the judgement, Sunday Times editor Ray Hartley said he was “extremely happy” Wa Afrika was going to be released from custody in Nelspruit.
“I am extremely happy … that this ridiculous farce is coming to and end. My advice to the Hawks would be, when you are in a hole, stop digging.”
He described Kruger’s order to release Wa Afrika as “very good”.
The Hawks’ argument that it was pointless to release him at the 11th hour was “quite frankly pathetic”, he said.
“It is a total flagrant disregard for the rule of the Constitution.”
Earlier on Thursday it was reported that the state prosecutor had dropped charges due to lack of evidence.
Hawks spokesperson Musa Zondi later said the charges against Wa Afrika had been restored.
Reports suggested the journalist’s arrest could be related to his being in possession of a fraudulent resignation letter by Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza. – Sapa