Maqatha magistrate under fire

2018-10-12 16:09
Supporters of slain ANC activist Musawenkosi ‘Maqatha’ Mchunu and supporters of murder accused councillor Nkosinathi ‘TK’ Gambu were separated by the police to avoid confrontation outside the magistrate’s court on Thursday.

Supporters of slain ANC activist Musawenkosi ‘Maqatha’ Mchunu and supporters of murder accused councillor Nkosinathi ‘TK’ Gambu were separated by the police to avoid confrontation outside the magistrate’s court on Thursday. (Ian Carbutt)

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Pietermaritzburg magistrate Ashin Singh came under fire on Thursday as the state sought to have him removed from the case in which six people are charged for the murder of ANC activist Musawenkosi “Maqatha” Mchunu. 

However, Singh refused to recuse himself from the matter in which six people including ward 10 councillor Nkosinathi “TK” Gambu are applying for bail.

State prosecutor Rene Padayachee subsequently said the state will appeal Singh’s decision. However, notwithstanding this the bail application is currently proceeding.

Also read: Supporters of slain councillor face off with accused’s backers

Investigating officer Lieutenant-Colonel Friccah Masilela had brought a formal application on Thursday for Singh’s recusal as the presiding officer in the case. In the application, which was read in court, Masilela said the state became worried when it received information that Singh had communicated with uMgungundlovu District Municipality deputy mayor Fucwana Zungu, who is related to two of the suspects.

Gambu is Zungu’s nephew while one of his co-accused, Gift Zungu, is the deputy mayor’s son.

The other accused in the case are Nkanyiso Zimu, Sifiso Mbele, Mlungisi Zimu and Ayanda Ngubane.

The 16-page application included photographic evidence which showed Singh interacting with lawyers of the accused. Masilela said the state had obtained video footage of several meetings between Singh and the lawyers of the accused, which took place at the court building.

One of the meetings, which allegedly took place in a restricted court area where only court staff with access cards can enter, lasted about four minutes, read Masilela’s application.

Singh was also seen being driven by a private person who was allegedly carrying a gun in the vehicle, during the course of one of the court appearances by the six accused, the state prosecutor argued.

The person in question did not register the firearm as is the court’s rule, Padayachee argued.

Defence counsel Jerome Brauns, SC, who represents all the accused, said in response it was tradition for magistrates and judges to meet with lawyers.

However, Padayachee said what was worrying was that one of the meetings took place in the restricted court area.

Padayachee said usually when a magistrate meets with attorneys, the prosecutor would also be present, which was not the case when Singh met with the accused’s lawyers.

Singh strongly denied having communicated with Zungu.

“I have never met the deputy mayor and I do not know who she is. I am shocked by this attack on me. All the decisions that I have taken in this case have been against the applicants [the accused]. I have no interest in this case,” he said.

Singh said there was nothing sinister about his interactions with the defence lawyers, saying they had happened in the court passage.

“I am not going to recuse myself from the case,” he said.

Singh said if he decided to grant bail to the six men, the decision will be dependent on the outcome of the state’s appeal in the recusal application.

“If I do not give them bail, I will send the matter on review for a high court judge to make a decision and investigate the conduct of certain officials in this court,” he said.

The state had first brought an application to move the matter to regional court, however, Singh said the certificate to do so was invalid as it was signed by deputy director of public prosecutions, advocate Thulani Selepe.

He said the certificate needed to be signed by the director of public prosecutions.

The application for bail for the six will continue today.

On Thursday, only Gambu took the stand after hours of arguments between the state and Singh.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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