Convicted artist Zwelethu Mthethwa turned into a monster, court hears

2017-05-24 23:01
Zwelethu Mthethwa consults his lawyer in court. (Jenna Etheridge, News24)

Zwelethu Mthethwa consults his lawyer in court. (Jenna Etheridge, News24)

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Cape Town - Convicted artist Zwelethu Mthethwa turned into a raging out of control monster, probably as a result of a booze-fuelled blackout, the Western Cape High Court heard during pre-sentencing on Wednesday.

And, according to a clinical psychologist, there was a great chance of rehabilitation as Mthethwa had never shown signs of aggression of misogyny before.

''His considerable talents can be used in the service of the community at large,'' clinical psychologist Martin Yodaiken testified, as he motivated that Mthethwa not be sentenced to the recommended 15 years in jail.

''A custodial sentence is unlikely to benefit him or society and will deprive society, NGOs, South Africa [and the] art world at large,'' he opined, while Mthethwa sat in the dock.

Mthethwa had pleaded not guilty to killing 23-year-old sex worker Nokuphila Kumalo, on April 14, 2013 in Woodstock. She died of blunt force trauma and was kicked repeatedly next to his Porsche. He said he could not remember anything of that night, and chose not to testify, or explain his plea.

On May 16 he was found guilty of murder and an application to be allowed out on bail to get his affairs in order ahead of his sentencing, was denied.

While sex-worker advocacy group Sweat protested outside the court, Yodaiken said that there was no evidence of Mthethwa being violent in the past.

There was no violence at home when he grew up, no reports of misogyny and no incidents of violence towards women, or anybody, he said.

'Silent treatment' 

A girlfriend said he disliked fighting so much that if they had a disagreement he would give her ''the silent treatment'' for days, and then return with flowers to apologise.

Another friend said the only time he had seen Mthethwa really angry was when somebody threw wine at him. He was not cross with the person, but focused on his shirt, which was ruined, continued Yodaiken.

He observed that that response was in line with his diagnosis of Mthethwa - a man with Narcissist features, who was self-absorbed, prone to grandiosity, and believed he was unique. 

However, this was just a ''feature'' of his narcissism and not a ''trait'' - the more dangerous kind. The feature was not linked to aggression or violence, and he used it to his own benefit to promote himself and his work, and to relationships he started.

He also had a tendency of histrionics, which he used in his favour because he liked to be the centre of attention, and he showed signs of an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) on matters of ethics and morality.

He was over adherent to societal norms on appearance, for example, so the shirt incident explained why he focused on his shirt rather than the person who threw wine at him.

He believed in keeping promises, being on time, and doing what society expected. In the case of his arrest, when he heard he was wanted, he flew back to South Africa from an art tour abroad, and handed himself to police at Cape Town International Airport, which Yodakien interpreted as a sign of his OCD tendencies.


He was described as a kind and generous person, a ''softy'', by friends and family.

They said he generously supported his child and the child's mother in the UK, several NGOs, and he also had a hand in trying to end the violence that has plagued the Glebelands hostel in Durban.

Nobody had ever seen him be physically violent and when he drinks he is the ''amiable drunk'' who dances and sings, and debates hotly, but does not get violent. 

Led by Mthethwa's defence, William Booth, Yodakien said he could not understand why Mthethwa acted the way he did when he killed Kumalo.

The CCTV footage of Kumalo's death showed her being kicked and punched for four minutes and 37 seconds. 

Yodaiken said Mthethwa went back three times over this period to continue the attack. Given that a boxing round between professional fighters only lasts for three minutes, this was extreme and suggested a personal relationship.

''In keeping with such a rage, the perpetrator continued the attack, so it was not only a personal attack on the victim, but also a means of dissipating rage.''

Mthethwa had been at a bar the night she was killed, and friends had told the psychologist that when Mthethwa drank - which was about three of four times a month - he would buy whole bottles and binge drink.

Binge drinking damages connections in the brain so no new memories are stored, and the result is a black out, he explained, adding that it also causes neural damage.

If this is what happened, suggested the psychologist, then it would explain why Mthethwa has no memory of killing Kumalo. He was basing this theory on the discovery of a withdrawal for R2 600 from Mthethwa's account on the night Kumalo was killed, although there was no proof that this was what happened.

A third person was also at the scene according to CCTV footage, but was never found.

'Sympathetic picture'

''Although this is by no means a defence against crime, it would show lack of control on learning something that made him fly into a rage.

''...We do not know what relationship is between Zwelethu and the victim and a third person on video. It is clear that something so significant occurred that Zwelethu transformed from a gentle, non-aggressive person to a raging out-of-control monster.''

But Prosecutor Christhenus van der Vijver quickly rejected Yodalkien's suggestion of a non-custodial sentence, with community service, treatment by a psychiatrist and psychologist, and regular attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

He accused the psychologist of painting a sympathetic picture of a man who beat and kicked a woman to death.

His sentence would be handed down at a later date, after Judge Patricia Goliath had mulled the submissions.

Read more on:    zwelethu mthethwa  |  cape town  |  crime

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