Magistrate recuses himself in ANC councillor's murder trial

Magistrate's Court. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)
Magistrate's Court. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

A Pietermaritzburg magistrate who presided over the bail application of six men, including an ANC councillor, accused of the murder of a local ANC activist recused himself on Friday.

The State and the police filed an application in the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate's Court on Thursday to have Magistrate Ashwin Singh removed from the case because he had "an interest in the matter".

Investigating officer Lieutenant Colonel Friccah Masilela, who made the formal application, said they had information that Singh had communicated with Mgungundlovu district municipality Deputy Mayor Fucwana Zungu, who is related to some of the accused in the matter.

Accused councillor Nkosinathi Gambu is said to be Zungu's nephew, while another accused, Gift Zungu, is her son. Their other co-accused are Nkanyiso and Mlungisi Zimu, Sifiso Mbele and Ayanda Ngubane.

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

They are accused of the murder of Msawenkosi Mchunu, who was the party's convenor of branches in the Moses Mabhida Region. Mchunu was shot dead in his driveway in KwaPata, Pietermaritzburg, on the evening of May 11 this year.

Mchunu had 15 gunshot wounds to his upper body, and three different guns were used to kill him, said Singh.

The court also heard that police had photographs of Singh interacting with the lawyers of the accused in a restricted area of the court building.

Singh, who seemed agitated, denied that he had met with the deputy mayor. He said he had never met her in his life.

Singh said the photographs before court showed him greeting the lawyers in the court corridors. He said he had greeted people, including attorneys and the general public, in the court's corridors for the past 20 to 30 years.

'I cannot deal with this matter'

He said if the State and the police were serious about their allegations they should have also asked the lawyers of the accused he had allegedly met to recuse themselves.

Singh said he had decided to recuse himself on Friday because he would have been forced to "go out of my way in refusing bail to the accused, just to please the NPA that I have no interest in the matter".

"I'm not prepared to do that. I chose to recuse myself because I've reached the point where I've made the findings against the NPA and the Hawks of dishonesty, maliciousness, of defeating the ends of justice, defamation and invasion of privacy. I cannot deal with this matter," said Singh.

He also ordered that the national director of public prosecutions institute an investigation into the "misconduct" of State prosecutor Rene Padayachee and other senior NPA officials involved in the matter, "for their misconduct, dishonesty and conduct which has exposed me to risk and which constitutes defeating the ends of justice and putting before court lies which is malicious and extremely dishonest".

The case has been adjourned to October 15. It has been transferred to the Pietermaritzburg Regional Court, where the accused were expected to continue with their bail application.

READ: ‘My hands are clean’

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