- EFF leader Julius Malema and Mbuyiseni Ndlozi have been acquitted on a charge of assault.
- The National Prosecuting Authority says it "accepts" the judgment.
- AfriForum says the fact that Malema and Ndlozi are not being held accountable points to the "decay" of the criminal justice system.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) described the judgment of the Randburg Magistrate's Court acquitting Julius Malema and Dr Mbuyiseni Ndlozi on a charge of assault as "sensible and correct".
On Thursday, the court said Malema and Ndlozi did not intend to assault Lieutenant-Colonel Johannes Venter during Winnie Madikizela-Mandela's burial in April 2018.
The EFF said it welcomed the outcome and "the closing of a painful chapter which has stifled mourning and healing" for Malema and Ndlozi.
"We are confident that Mama Winnie is resting in peace knowing that her children will no longer be dragged to court for fighting for their right to bury their mother," the party said in a statement.
But lobby group AfriForum said the acquittal points to the "decay" of the criminal justice system.
In a statement, AfriForum said: "The fact that two prominent politicians caught on camera attacking a SAPS colonel on duty and in uniform are not held accountable for their actions points to the decay of the criminal justice system.
AfriForum's Reiner Duvenage said:
The organisation said Malema and Ndlozi were acquitted despite damning footage of the incident.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) initially decided not to prosecute, but later announced it would prosecute, prompting AfriForum to become involved and obtain a watching brief in the matter.
The NPA said it "accepts" the court’s decision.
"The judgment signals the proper functioning of the criminal justice system as required by law, that if the State failed to prove its allegations beyond any reasonable doubt, then the accused is entitled to an acquittal," regional spokesperson Phindi Mjonondwane said.
In his lengthy judgment, Magistrate Leiland Poonsamy found that Malema and Ndlozi lacked intent to assault Venter.
Poonsamy had also considered the accused's state of mind at the time.
He said they were mourners on that day and did not anticipate they would be stopped by the officer. He said the accused believed they were entitled to be at the cemetery.
He also said the State had failed to prove that Malema and Ndlozi were not part of the convoy.
"The court finds that the version of the accused is reasonably possibly true. The accused did not intend to assault the complainant based on the evidence."
Turning to Venter's evidence, the magistrate took issue with some discrepancies in his statements.
He said Venter made four statements containing contradictions, adding his evidence was "not impressive when he tried to explain the discrepancies".
News24 previously reported that during the trial, the police officer, who is attached to the Presidential Protection Services, told the court that Malema had refused to walk into the cemetery after he had stopped his vehicle at the cemetery's entrance.
He testified that Malema's vehicle did not have a permit to enter the cemetery.
Venter said Malema and Ndlozi pushed and shoved him until he lost his balance.
The officer also told the court that Malema's vehicle was not part of the main convoy that had arrived earlier and did not have a visible permit.
The convoy included vehicles transporting the Mandela family, the president, former and current heads of state, as well as ministers.
Scores of supporters in EFF regalia gathered outside the courtroom on Thursday.
Addressing his supporters, Malema said: "We want to thank the leadership of the EFF for believing in us and for knowing that we are not crazy people who go around beating up people without any justification."
He also thanked his legal team for believing in the case.