ET trial: Policeman fudges testimony

The only thing that gave away what was going inside the Ventersdorp courthouse this week was a row of media cars and a police van here and there. Apart from a few Afrikaans men clad in khaki, who lingered outside the building for a few minutes one morning, the trial of the alleged murderers of AWB leader Eugene Terre’Blanche was continuing like any other—without much attention from the town’s residents.

Eighteen months after Terre’Blanche’s violent death had made international headlines and race-based clashes ignited outside the court in Ventersdorp, the trial quietly resumed on Monday morning. The two suspects, 28-year-old Chris Mahlangu and the now 16-year old-minor, pleaded not guilty to attempted robbery, housebreaking and murder.

Journalists sat in an air-conditioned room watching the proceedings being broadcast on CCTV in an effort to protect the identity of the minor, who has not been seen on camera.
Although the media’s numbers have dwindled in Ventersdorp compared to the bail hearing last June, a cast of interesting characters continued to emerge in the ongoing courtroom drama.

On Wednesday, police officer Sergeant Jack Ramonyane blamed the former investigating officer, Colonel Tsietsi Mano, for influencing him to write a second statement after the murder and falsify evidence. Mano, who is yet to testify, is a controversial character who is also under investigation by the Independent Complaints Directorate, with six other police officers, for allegedly torturing robbery suspects in custody. He is due in court on October 25 to face charges of assault and grievous bodily harm, according to the directorate’s Moses Dlamini.

Ramonyane, who arrested the two suspects on the day of the murder, sheepishly admitted to being influenced by Mano to include in his additional statement things he did not say or hear. The document was written weeks after the murder, whereas his first statement was completed on the day of the crime.

Defence counsel Norman Arendse in his cross-examination of the state witness described Ramonyane as “slight”. The policeman visibly shrunk back on the stand and dropped his head as he was grilled by the sharply dressed, well-spoken advocate.

Although Arendse had Ramonyane smiling when he referred to his second statement as the statement “that was dictated to you”, for the most part the officer was shaking as he admitted making mistake after mistake in his police work. Sweating and pursing his lips on the stand, Ramonyane kept changing his story saying he knew nothing about a register that the Child Justice Act required him to sign when arresting a minor.

Despite referring to the teenager as “jonk, jonk” (young, young) in his first statement, Ramonyane said he had assumed the suspect was 18 or 19. When Arendse asked why he had not read the two accused their rights on arrest, Ramonyane said he did not make the arrest at the time, contradicting earlier statements he had made.

The police investigation of the case was always questionable, said Arendse, who was representing the minor. The normally high-priced lawyer, who acted for the minister of justice during the Hefer Commission’s investigation into whether then-national director of public prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka had been an apartheid spy, agreed to assist in the minor’s defence after getting a call from his first lawyer, Zola Majavu, who asked that he assist as senior counsel.

Arendse, who was previously president of Cricket South Africa, told the Mail & Guardian that rumours about a third party paying him to represent the minor were “nonsense”. He said he had a close relationship with Majavu because they had worked together on many “soccer cases” and therefore agreed to work with him without discussing pay.

“Majavu and I are doing this pro bono,” he said.

He argued that “a poor and indigent 16-year-old minor from a single parent family” also needed representation. “We can’t just make money all the time.”

Mahlangu, who looked worried and ill in the dock, has not been as lucky on the legal front. His first lawyer, Puna Moroko, quit when Legal Aid refused to pay his fees days before the trial was supposed to resume. This led to a delay, much to Judge John Horn’s displeasure.

Legal Aid attorney Kgomotso Tlouane this week represented Mahlangu, whose story has changed many times since his arrest.

Six witnesses testified this week that Mahlangu confessed to the murder. In a confession presented to court during his bail application in June 2010, the farm worker had also said that he got into a fight with Terre’Blanche over unpaid wages. But this week Tlouane said Mahlangu did not fight with Terre’Blanche over money, although he did not give any hint of what they may have fought about.

For more on the life and times of the slain AWB leader, visit our special report.

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