/ 27 July 2017

Napoleon Webster set to be released after 202 days in jail

Speaking out: Napoleon Webster took part in housing protests in Marikana in 2016
Speaking out: Napoleon Webster took part in housing protests in Marikana in 2016

Marikana housing activist Napoleon Webster will be released on bail on Friday following six months in jail after he was charged with committing murder. Webster believes the charges are politically motivated because of his community campaigns in Marikana.

On Thursday, the Mafikeng magistrate’s court in the North West ordered that Webster be released on bail on condition that R3 000 is paid for his release.

The state charged Webster and 13 other men of hacking Sabata Petros Chale (39), an ANC councillor, to death on December 8 2016 in Marikana Extension 2, Rustenburg. Chale was allegedly killed over the allocation of low-cost housing in the area.

But Webster, a member of the Economic Freedom Fighters and a housing activist, believes that the ANC has come after him because of his activities in the Marikana area. Support for the EFF has spread in the region.

“This thing is political,” he said when the Mail & Guardian visited him in prison. “This is not the first time that the police have come after me and it is because of the trouble I cause for the ANC and the government.” 

Webster had led an occupation of government-built houses in Marikana Extension 2. The houses had been built on land donated by Lonmin mining company. The occupiers renamed the area Mambush 34 after slain Marikana miner Mgcineni Mambush Noki, who was shot dead by police during the Marikana massacre.

The houses were occupied last year in January, after protests erupted at the allocation process and the decisions around who was hired to work on the construction of the houses.

Webster was later arrested for the death of Chale, and the state brought in two witnesses who testified he was in the vigilante group who had killed Chale. Webster was denied bail in April, but his lawyers at the Socio-Economic Rights Institution (Seri), who also represent the families of the 34 slain Marikana miners, appealed the judgment.

Testimonies from others say that it is not possible that Webster was at the scene of Chale’s murder at the time he was killed. Sipho Singiswa, a documentary filmmaker, told activist Nigel Branken, who has worked with Webster, that he was with Webster at the time of the murder. 

“At the time the alleged murder took place and Napoleon is [alleged to be] part of that, we were together at Shoprite,” said Singiswa. “It is impossible that Napoleon was somewhere else at 4.45pm, as the state alleges, because he was with us. There’s no way he was part of any murder.”

Branken has been collecting testimonies to prove Webster is not guilty of the crime the state has accused him of. Student activist Zwelake Mahlamvu has also said that Webster was with him the “entire day” the murder took place and the charges are “trumped-up”. 

On Thursday, after Webster had spent more than 200 days in jail, the Mafikeng magistrate court ordered that he be released after the state lawyers and Seri reached an agreement.

Branken jovially responded to the news Webster would be released in a statement on Thursday: “Prepare the celebrations, Napoleon Webster is coming home!”

The other conditions of Webster’s bail include:

  • He must reside in Soweto until his trial is finalised
  • He must report to a police station in Soweto every Friday between 6am and 6pm pending the finalisation of his trial
  • He must surrender his passport to the investigating officer until his trial is finalised
  • He may not communicate with state witnesses or interfere in the case
  • His attorneys may communicate with state witnesses as long as they adhere to the law
  • He must appear at the Rustenberg regional court on September 12 2017 and not miss any court appearances that have been ordered

Lawyers at Seri confirmed to the Mail & Guardian that Webster will be released on Friday.