Man accused of killing neighbour over WhatsApp row fails to have matter withdrawn

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Leon Coetzee appears in the Pretoria North Magistrate's court on a charge of murder.
Leon Coetzee appears in the Pretoria North Magistrate's court on a charge of murder.
News24/Alex Mitchley
  • In April 2021, Leon Coetzee allegedly stabbed and killed Thembinkosi Thabethe.
  • According to the State, Coetzee stabbed Thabethe multiple times after he had confronted Coetzee's wife about a WhatsApp message. 
  • Coetzee maintains that he acted in self-defence. 

The man accused of murdering Thembinkosi Thabethe, after a furore over a WhatsApp message, failed to have the matter withdrawn, following several postponements requested by the State. 

Leon Coetzee appeared in the Pretoria North Magistrate's Court on Wednesday, where the State asked for another postponement in order to get a high court date to have the matter transferred. 

Coetzee's attorney, Bernhard van Zyl, opposed the postponement, arguing that the case had been postponed previously for a high court date and that the State sought the latest postponement because investigations had not been completed. 

Van Zyl said that, in October 2021, the State had said the docket was ready and requested that the matter be postponed for a high court date. 

Almost two months later, in December, a court date had still not been arranged, and the matter was subsequently postponed for the same purpose to 19 January. 

Van Zyl added that there were instructions from the deputy public prosecutor for the investigating officer to obtain the hospital file of Thabethe, to interview medical personnel who treated the deceased, and to find out whether he died because of complications during operations.

Van Zyl asserted that these instructions pointed towards the real reason for a postponement as investigations had not yet been completed.

READ | WhatsApp message allegedly sparked deadly stabbing in Pretoria, court hears

He asked the court to withdraw the matter from the roll until the State got its house in order. 

The State denied that it was still investigating the case, arguing that it had already handed over the indictment to the accused. 

The State maintained that it could not get a court date to have the matter transferred because the high court went into recess in December. 

The court found that progress was being made to transfer the matter and noted that investigations were an ongoing process. 

However, the court refused to grant the State's request to postpone to March, saying three weeks would suffice. 

The matter was subsequently postponed to 16 February. 

Crime 

According to the indictment, Coetzee has been charged with murder after stabbing Thabethe outside Coetzee's house. 

It is alleged that Coetzee stabbed Thabethe, who was walking away, when he noticed that Coetzee was armed with a knife.

"The accused then stabbed the deceased, the deceased ran, but the accused chased (sic) continuing stabbing him until he fell on the ground," the indictment read. 

During the bail application, Coetzee argued that he acted in self-defence, that Thabethe was the aggressor, and that he also attacked a neighbour. 

Coetzee admitted to coming out of his house, carrying a knife, after Thabethe started banging on his gate and then "verbally assaulting" his wife.

According to Coetzee, Thabethe was overly aggressive and said: "Come out, white racist bitch."

READ | Man accused of killing neighbour over WhatsApp row claims it was 'self-defence'

He also allegedly yelled: "I will kill you."

He claimed Thabethe assaulted a female neighbour, who came out to see what the commotion was about.

This was the moment when Coetzee reportedly opened the gate and told Thabethe he had a knife.

"The deceased person then focused his attention and aggression on me and attempted to disarm me," he said.

"A scuffle then ensued between me and the deceased person. The deceased person backed off and again launched an attack on me with a rock.

He said:

I instinctively defended myself. In the process, the deceased person was wounded, and I also sustained injuries on my left hand.

However, the State said it had evidence that Coetzee chased after Thabethe, stabbing him twice, and then a third time as he was lying on the ground, defenceless. 

The WhatsApp message 

The incident happened after Thabethe, who also lived on the estate, apparently went to confront Coetzee's wife about a message addressed to her on the estate's WhatsApp group.

News24 previously reported that the message, sent by another person, was screengrabbed and sent to the estate group, which sparked outrage.

Thabethe was also mentioned in the message. 

The message in question, which was in Afrikaans, said Coetzee's wife should not concern herself with those "pigs" and that TT is very corrupt. 

The investigating officer, Cedric Machika, said TT was Thabethe.

Machika said the content of the message had motivated Thabethe to confront Coetzee's wife.

While the messages did not reveal what the screengrabbed message was responding to, it did indicate who had sent the message and what Thabethe's reaction was.

"I know this racist landie hence I said she must play far, but I will visit her to find out what is [on] her mind tell her, does anyone know her house number (sic)," Thabethe said on the group.

Other people also commented on the screengrab message, of which some were offended and said the content of the message was racist.

No messages from Coetzee, or his wife responding to the message, were read out in court.


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