/ 17 May 2023

Senzo Meyiwa trial: Application to ban media ‘a publicity stunt’

Senzo Meyiwa Trial
Judge Maumela during the Senzo Meyiwa murder trial at Gauteng High Court. (Photo by Gallo Images/OJ Koloti)

The objection by the state’s next witness in the Senzo Meyiwa murder trial to having her testimony broadcast live, over “fears for her safety” have been rubbished by media lawyer Dan Rosengarten, who called her application “a publicity stunt”. 

Rosengarten was responding on Wednesday to an application launched on Monday by prosecutor George Baloyi on behalf of the witness, who wants the Pretoria high court to issue an order barring audio and visual recordings of her testimony when she takes the stand. 

The witness, who cannot be named until she is sworn in, is a known entertainment performer who was in the house on the night of Meyiwa’s October 2014 killing at the Vosloorus, Gauteng, home of his lover, singer Kelly Khumalo, in what the prosecution alleges was a botched armed robbery. 

On Wednesday, the prosecutor reiterated that the witness was “apprehensive” about being recorded. He acknowledged that there were freedom of expression rights to consider, but also rights to a fair trial. 

Muzikawukhulelwa Sibiya, Bongani Ntanzi, Mthobisi Ncube, Mthokoziseni Maphisa and Fisokuhle Ntuli are on trial for the footballer’s murder. All five accused face charges of premeditated murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, illegal possession of a firearm and the illegal possession of ammunition, to which they have pleaded not guilty. 

“Those rights should be, as far as possible, harmonised with one another. We need to tread very carefully when a witness says she doesn’t want to testify in front of cameras,” Baloyi said, adding that no witness should be forced to testify in front of a camera.

“A witness performs a civic duty when he or she comes to testify about the commission of a crime.” 

But Rosengarten rejected the state’s argument, saying that on Monday the witness had posted a picture on social media of herself at the high court lifts, where she commented on the trial’s proceedings. 

The witness was also interviewed by news channel eNCA last year, Rosengarten added, and there was “no evidence that she fears for her safety”. 

Rosengarten, who is representing broadcast news networks and arguing for live recordings, pulled up another Instagram post from the witness that she posted in November, in which she wrote that she had a dream that she wanted to testify away from the cameras, and that her “dreams always come true”.

“This witness has brought this application based on her dream. She says nothing about fearing for herself,” Rosengarten said, adding that the application was “a publicity stunt”. The state had failed to get an affidavit from its witness as to what exactly she was afraid of, he said.

“We don’t know why the witness is threatened … We just have a bland statement [that] she’s scared,” Rosengarten argued. 

His views were echoed by fifth-accused Ntuli’s legal representative, advocate Zandile Mshololo, who asserted that the state had “hijacked this court” by launching its application on Monday, the day its next witness was expected to start testimony, without forewarning the defence lawyers and the media of the objection from the witness. 

Mshololo submitted that Baloyi should have launched an urgent application on Sunday evening in a separate courtroom to bar live recordings, adding that this would have prevented Judge Tshifhiwa Maumela from possibly infringing on media freedom and the public’s right to information. 

“The state ought to have followed that procedure because this court is expected to rule and interfere with the constitutional rights of the public, of the accused, of the accused’s families,” Mshololo contended.

“The right to direct access to the court of society will be affected [should live recordings be banned] because they will have to rely on the information received from reporters and journalists.”

Maumela reserved his judgment on whether to bar live recordings for Thursday, and all accused were remanded in custody.