/ 21 August 2023

SAPS evidence management under the spotlight in Meyiwa murder trial

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A police van patrols in front of the house where Senzo Meyiwa was murdered. (MUJAHID SAFODIEN/AFP via Getty Images)

From leaving the scene unsecured and open to possible contamination, to failing to collect all DNA evidence, the Senzo Meyiwa murder trial has cast a spotlight on the manner in which the South African Police Service manages crime scenes. 

Managing evidence has become a point of contention for defence lawyers in the Pretoria high court who have poked holes into the police’s conduct on the night the football star was killed in October 2014 at the Vosloorus family home of his girlfriend, singer Kelly Khumalo.

On Monday, defence advocates Zandile Mshololo and Zithulele Nxumalo continued cross-examining state witness warrant officer and forensics investigator sergeant Thabo Mosia, who has defended the way in which he secured evidence after Meyiwa’s murder.

The advocates represent two of the five men facing charges of murder, attempted murder, unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition, and robbery with aggravating circumstances. 

Mosia, who was a first responder at the scene, told the court that he did not collect all DNA evidence because the people in the house were considered victims of an intrusion, and not suspects. Mosia told the defence that he did not see any issues with the way in which he gathered the bullet and casing.

The court has heard how the warrant officer had placed bullet fragments and projectile evidence in separate bags — prompting the defence to highlight that it was not found in the same place. 

Mshololo also sought to clarify whether the forensics officer kept the evidence overnight or secured it at the police station. Mosia said he took the exhibits and locked them in a safe at work, recording them only the next day. 

It has also emerged that fingerprints were not taken from Meyiwa’s car or the kitchen door handle where a bullet hole was evident. The sergeant says he did not swab the door because people in the house used it extensively. 

Mosia also told the court that the pocket book he used on the day has since gone missing. However Judge Ratha Mokgoatlheng told the court that in his own experience, it was common for police to misplace their pocket books. 

“Regarding pocket books, it’s common sense that if they are filled up they must be handed in,” he said during the cross examination.

“This is not a judgment on the police but when I was practising in the 1970s, defending so-called security legislation, treason victims … when you started cross examining the policeman the pocket book invariably got lost, and I am not saying you must comment. So it is not a new story,” Mokgoatlheng said. 

Towards the end of his gruelling cross examination, Mosia told the court that he could no longer be on the stand as it was physically distressing.

“My body cannot take it anymore,” he said.

A new state witness took the stand before court adjourned until Tuesday. Lieutenant Colonel Thobeka Mhlahlo is expected to continue taking the court through her work which included compiling a crime scene report, taking photos and sketching. 

Before Mhlahlo took the stand on Monday afternoon, the court heard that she discovered the projectile evidence when Mosia had left the scene just before 3am the morning after Meyiwa’s murder.