Major Cape Town gang trial stalls due to specialist police unit protection no-show

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Elton "Koffie" Lenting.
Elton "Koffie" Lenting.
Jenni Evans, News24
  • The trial of 20 men accused of more than 100 charges, including murder, was stalled when the accused prevented court orderlies from escorting anyone into the dock.
  • They were upset that only four of the 20 were allowed to attend the proceedings because there were no specialist police officers present to guard them if all 20 of them appeared at once.
  • The judge postponed the matter to Wednesday.

Some of the accused in the trial of 20 alleged Terrible Josters gangsters objected when they weren't allowed to attend their proceedings in the Western Cape High Court because there were no specialist police officers available to guard them. 

Judge James Lekhuleni heard that the police's specialist Tactical Resource Team (TRT) officers, who usually guard the accused, were unexpectedly redeployed and that without them, the 20 of the accused could not appear in the dock at the same time.

This happened on Monday too, when a compromise was reached: only four of the accused who were directly implicated in a witness' testimony were led up from the holding cells into the dock. The rest, who had to wait downstairs, out of earshot of proceedings, said they were missing out on their trial.

So, on Tuesday, when there were still no TRT officers available, some in the group said that either everybody should be allowed to appear in the dock, or no one would be allowed to do so.

They formed a human blockade that prevented orderlies from escorting anyone from the cells.

A warrant officer in charge on Tuesday stepped forward and told Lekhuleni what situation was.

"It's very aggressive behaviour by them," he said.

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He recommended that the lawyers negotiate with their clients rather than having a situation involving the police "dragging them out" of their cells.

"And if we don't succeed, then we are going to have to go to page two, and I don't know what that will be," he said.

Prosecutor André Damons told Lekhuleni: "They have blocked the cells, and they have informed the court all must come [into the court]."

Lekhuleni did a round robin with the defence lawyers. One advocate, Ken Kloppers, submitted that when the State arrests 20 people on charges as serious as being in a gang, they should plan ahead.

"It is for the State then to provide infrastructure, including the security that is necessary. It is not their fault that there are not enough policemen here. Why are they being treated as a special breed of accused?" he asked. 

Raymond “Muis” Arendse and Elton “Koffie” Lenting.
Son Astrid Februarie

Some of the accused told their counsel they would make an exception and let the trial continue with only four of the accused in the dock on Tuesday, but not all of them agreed. They also wanted to know why they couldn't be guarded by conventional police officers.

Lekhuleni crisply told the lawyers to talk to their clients, and adjourned briefly for the consultations. 

He said although it was not right that the accused were "holding the court to ransom", they were entitled to be in court for their case. 

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"Surely they deserve an explanation on why they are not in court after being transported from Pollsmoor."

The SA Police Service transports the group to court and back to prison in a spectacle of sirens and escorts but once they are at court, the TRT is required to secure them. The TRT is a heavily armed and kitted out unit. Its members use buffs to cover their faces.

The trial involves more than 100 charges, at least 10 murders, numerous attempted murders and drugs in a violent pocket of Delft, an impoverished suburb of Cape Town.

The only people in the dock for Tuesday's proceedings were leader "Koffie" Lenting, a shadow of his former self after losing a lot of weight in the past year, and his alleged second in charge, Raymond "Muis" Arendse. Two others joined them after the consultation adjournment. 

The prosecutor mooted having the matter transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in a series of "cages" separating the accused, prosecutors, counsel, and the judge, but this did not go down well with the lawyers.

Lekhuleni postponed the matter to Wednesday.

He said he would also consider case law on the "novel" situation.

"The Criminal Procedure Act and the Constitution make it very clear that the proceedings are going to take place in the presence of the accused," he said. 

The police previously responded to questions about the guarding at the Josters trial, saying that they do not discuss operational matters with the media.

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