Copesville community members bring city to a standstill

2014-10-17 00:00

TRAFFIC came to a halt as a massive dancing, toyi-toyiing crowd chanted their way to court yesterday in support of 15 people arrested for the “vigilante” murders of two men earlier this month.

Pietermaritzburg’s riot police were on standby as the hundreds of protesters gathered in Church Street outside the public library for several hours awaiting the outcome of a bail application by the accused. They are charged with arson and murder of Nathi Gwala and a man identified as “Rasta” at Ezinketheni near Copesville on October 6.

The eight women and seven men — one of whom was still in hospital recovering from injuries — were eventually granted bail of R500 each, but only on condition that they don’t go back to Copesville. They must move to the alternative addresses they provided to court.

The oldest accused is a 68-year-old woman.

The victims, who were suspected of criminal activity, were torched to death at Ezinketheni near Copesville by a mob of up to 200 people, prosecutor Rene Padayachee told magistrate Ntsoaki Ndawonde. “The community apparently decided to take the law into their own hands,” she said, adding the strongest reason the state had to oppose bail was the seriousness of the case.

The investigating officer was also concerned for the safety of witnesses in the matter.

Andre Chetty, who appeared for the defence, said the arrests of the accused had in some instances created “child-headed” households at home, and others were gainfully employed and could lose their jobs if they had to stay in jail.

“They are also grandmothers and mothers,” he added.

Chetty pointed out that the crowd gathered outside court were there in support of the accused.

Ndawonde said that while she agreed the accused should get bail, the families of the victims and state witnesses in the case had to be protected.

In the circumstances she said the accused had to make arrangements to resume their lives at the alternative addresses they gave, some as far afield as Greytown. She warned that if they breached their bail conditions by returning to Copesville, warrants for their arrest will be issued.

People ran from court to break the news that bail was granted, raising their fists and shouting in triumph, causing a joyful stampede along Otto Street outside the court building.

The crowd of about 300 to 400 protestors initially threatened to stone cars in the Copesville area earlier yesterday, but once the police arrived to escort them, the group, equipped with long sticks, ran at almost full pace all the way down Old Greytown Road, heading to the courts.

The group bellowed out songs as they waved their sticks in the air and at motorists passing by. Running, the crowd passed Prilla Mills and Northway Mall heading into town. Motorists shook their heads and waved their hands angrily, but only after the group were well away.

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