Parliament fire: Accused arrives in court holding cells in pyjamas and on hunger strike

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Zandile Mafe appears at Western Cape High Court to appeal against the dismissal of his bail application.
Zandile Mafe appears at Western Cape High Court to appeal against the dismissal of his bail application.
Brenton Geach, Gallo Images
  • Zandile Mafe is on another hunger strike. 
  • He arrived at the Western Cape High Court holding cells in his pyjamas. 
  • His lawyer said he was not well enough to go up the steps to the courtroom. 

Parliament arson-accused Zandile Mafe is on another hunger strike, his lawyer said after a dramatic no-show in the dock for his pre-trial hearing in the Western Cape High Court on Friday. 

Mafe was expected to make a quick appearance for a trial date to be set. 

When the orderlies went to fetch him from the holding cells downstairs for his court appearance, they found him lying on the ground and could not get him to go up to the court. 

READ | Parliament arson accused Zandile Mafe's case transferred to High Court

"We're having a bizarre incident," the orderly told the court. "The suspect is lying down. We tried to pick him up [and] he's falling down. He said he cannot come to court. He's just lying down."

Judge Elize Steyn gave Mafe's lawyer Lufuno Godla permission to go to the holding cells to speak to his client. 

She stood his matter down and cleared all her other pretrial matters. By the time she was finished with her pretrials, prosecutor Mervyn Menigo had also gone to see what was going on. 

Godla returned and told Steyn that Mafe would not be coming up to the dock because he was on a hunger strike.

It is his second since his arrest. The first hunger strike was when he was sent to Valkenberg psychiatric facility after an initial diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia.

The State felt that he should he be assessed to determine his capacity to understand the legal proceedings. That meant he could not apply for bail straight away.

Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe found procedural problems with the referral and ordered that he be removed from hospital and sent to Pollsmoor instead. He was ultimately not granted bail, and his lawyer has applied for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Godla said Mafe was very unwell and weak due to the new hunger strike. 

"I did not anticipate this," said Godla, adding that Pollsmoor Prison usually told him when there are new developments.

He added:

He is still in his pyjamas as well.

Mafe's pretrial continued in absentia. 

The court also heard that there might be a fresh application by the State to check his mental capacity to stand trial. 

Godla told Steyn that Mafe intended pleading not guilty when eventually asked. 

The matter was postponed to 2 September for further pretrial. 

Outside the court, Godla said Mafe had not eaten for six days because he thought the trial was not proceeding fast enough.  

The charges he faces are housebreaking with intent to commit arson, and arson; contravention of the Protection of Constitutional Democracy against Terrorism and Other Related Activities Act; alternately terrorism, alternately discharge or detonation of an explosive or lethal device; and theft. 

Mafe was arrested on 2 January at Parliament while a devastating fire was raging in the National Assembly building.

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