In a dramatic twist of events, the legal team representing the murder-accused Sipho Mkhatshwa dumped him.
Mkhatshwa is one of the three suspects in custody, accused of kidnapping and killing Hillary Gardee last month.
Hillary, the daughter of former EFF secretary general Godrich Gardee, was allegedly kidnapped in Mbombela and was later found dead and her body dumped outside Mbombela on May 3. Her thick killing touched and united everyone along racial lines and political affiliations.
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Mkhatshwa was arrested along with two other suspects, Philemon Lukhele and Albert Gama, in connection with this case.
On their first appearance in the Nelspruit Magistrate’s Court, the trio abandoned their bail application bid. However, Mkhatshwa had a change of heart and approached the court again in a bid to be released on bail.
He made an appearance last Thursday, June 2, led evidence and was represented by his legal team, led by Adv Sebastian Bhila.
On this day, Mkhatshwa testified in court that he had not known Hillary and that he had no motive for killing her. He also testified that he was never anywhere near Mbombela on the day Hillary went missing, citing that he only took a taxi to Germiston, where he had worked for the City of Ekurhuleni.
Mkhathswa further told the court that he suffered torture and assault at the hands of his “capturers”, as he put it. He said his so-called confession statement was done under the duration following the assaults and torture.
Pleading with court to release him on bail, Mkhatshwa pleaded ill health, his job and the well-being of his children.
The state prosecutor, Adv Ntsika Mpolweni, firstly argued that Mkhatshwa did not have a job anymore since he was fired by the City of Ekurhuleni.
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Mpolweni also told court that the state was going to prove that Mkhatshwa knew Hillary through cellphone records and the fact that he was indeed in Mbombela on the day she had gone missing.
On the second day of the bail hearing, on Friday June 3, just before the start of proceedings, Mkhatshwa’s legal team informed the court that they wished to withdraw from representing him because of conflict of interest. Bhila said he could not divulge the nature of the conflict as it might prejudice himself and the accused.
Mkhatshwa then asked the court to postpone the hearing to allow him to source the services of another legal team.
The matter was postponed to Thursday June 9, when Mkhatshwa will be joined by the two other suspects in the matter.
The Mpumalanga EFF’s leader, Collen Sedibe, whose political organization pushed ever so hard to get Lukhele’s student accommodation contracts terminated, applauded the decision taken by Mkhatshwa’s legal team to dump him.
Sedibe also pleaded with his party members across the Ehlanzeni District and province to come in their numbers and pack the Nelspruit Magistrate’s Court as the trio appears again on Thursday.
“For us being there in numbers, we are not only honoring Gardee’s spirit, we are also showing her family that we care and that we are with them in this time of pain and grief. Most importantly, we are showing up against our justice system, which at times favors criminals,” said Sedibe.