UKZN 10 granted bail at last

2016-11-11 09:49
Supporters of the UKZN students celebrate outside the high court after they were granted bail on Thursday.

Supporters of the UKZN students celebrate outside the high court after they were granted bail on Thursday. (Ian Carbutt)

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Pietermaritzburg - There were high fives all round as 10 University of KwaZulu-Natal students were granted bail on Thursday.

Seven of them had spent 49 days in jail and the other three, who were arrested for a different incident, were imprisoned for 40 days.

The 10 students, who were among different groups of students arrested at the height of the violent #FeesMustFall protests at the local campus in September and October, all face a main charge of public violence.

They also face additional charges such as failing to comply with police orders, interfering with police in their duties, malicious injury to property, common assault and contempt of court.

Acting Pietermaritzburg high court judge Eric Zaca set the 10 students free after finding that the magistrate who refused them bail, M. Boikhutso, was wrong for taking into account video evidence pointing to their alleged guilt.

He said their guilt or innocence was a matter for the trial court to decide.

The judge said the magistrate had been informed (by defence attorney Andre Chetty) that the defence was going to dispute the admissibility of video footage when the case went to trial, but this footage apparently influenced her decision to deny seven of the so-called “UKZN 11” group bail.

The other three students — arrested for an incident on October 1 — were allegedly part of a group of five students who had been chased into the William O’Brien (WOB) residence on the campus by security guards and were arrested there.

While the magistrate granted two of these students bail on grounds that they legitimately resided in WOB and could have a reasonable explanation for being there, she refused to grant the other three bail as they were identified as being “violent”.

Chetty told the high court that this did not make any sense and meant that the magistrate had again delved into the merits of the case.

He said the magistrate’s refusal of bail amounted to her “punishing” the students she perceived as having committed offences, and said her decision was “wrong in law”.

He said she did not take into account relevant factors including that none of the students had previous convictions or pending cases and were not a flight risk.

State advocate Martin Mtambo also agreed that all 10 students ought to get bail and that the magistrate had been wrong in the way she approached the application. However, he stressed in court that he did not want to “give the wrong impression that we are on the same side”.

“We [the state] are in no way condoning what has happened at tertiary institutions … sight should not be lost about what is happening out there,” he said referring to violence which has resulted in buildings and cars being torched, stones and bottles being thrown at police, security guards and the public and alleged intimidation of other students.

A big crowd of students turned up at the high court in support of their imprisoned peers, but they stayed calm and quiet. A strong police presence kept a watchful eye on proceedings, but there were no incidents of unruly unbehavior.

When the first group of seven students was given bail a few supporters clapped their hands with joy and waved to the beaming group as they were led downstairs to the court cells for the last time.

The seven were followed soon afterwards by the other three who exchanged high fives with each other and waved cheerfully to the public gallery as they left court. The students’ supporters sang and danced their way joyfully to the public library to await the release of the ten students.

However, their attorney said they had to follow a lengthy formal process to pay their bail before they could be released, which “could take some hours”.

The 10 students released on Thursday were granted bail of R1 000, with the condition that they may not take part in any violent protests or demonstrations.

The students who were granted bail on Thursday are Chuma Wakeni, Siyathemba Magwaza, Mayibongwe Ngcobo, Mbali Langa, Thembeka Mpanza, Nobuhle Shabalala and Siyabonga Mbambo, Xabiso Montanga, Nduduzo Nsibande and Sicelo Qwabe.

Read more on:    ukzn  |  #feesmustfall  |  pietermaritzburg  |  university fees  |  university protests

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