Those who live in the up-market suburb of Nirvana in Polokwane, Limpopo, speak in hushed tones about the spine-chilling case of local businessman Rameez Patel.
On Monday, 32-year-old Patel appeared in the Polokwane Magistrates’ Court, having been charged with the murder of his mother, who was fatally shot three weeks ago.
The court then heard that he had to race to the High Court in Polokwane, where his trial for the 2015 murder of his wife, Fatima, was due to continue.
This week, his neighbours said that developments in court had struck fear in them and they were reluctant to mention his name in the presence of strangers.
They are also wondering what happened to Patel’s father, Feroz, who was murdered in August last year in what police initially suspected to be an attempted robbery.
They say this could explain why Patel’s brother has fled to London.
“We are struggling to believe that he is involved, but the fact that his brother ran away raises more questions,” said one woman, who asked not to be named.
His former neighbour at the apartment where Patel’s wife was killed, also refused to talk about him.
“We are scared. We don’t know which story to trust. Just leave us out of this, we don’t need trouble,” she said.
Another neighbour hoped the trial would answer their questions because “we want to know”.
Said another: “This is a drama. Everyone is scared to talk about the Patels, especially when their relatives and friends are around.”
This week, the high court heard how Patel beat the face of his wife and mother of his three small children with a cricket bat and strangled her to death in their apartment.
No evidence was led in the local magistrates’ court about the murder of his mother, Mahejeen Banu Patel, and the case was postponed until tomorrow, when he will apply for bail.
Known as Banu to her neighbours, she was shot and killed at her Nirvana home in front of her domestic worker on September 19.
Her son was arrested days later. At the time he was out on bail of R250 000 for Fatima’s murder.
His 51-year-old mother had been granted custody of Patel’s three small children, aged two, six and 10, while Patel was allowed frequent access to them and to take them to school every day.
It is unclear who is caring for them now.
State prosecutor Advocate Mashudu Mudau told the high court that the state was about to close its case, which went to trial late last year, but it now needed to add two more witnesses, thanks to new evidence that surfaced during the investigation into Patel’s mother’s murder.
The court heard that among those set to testify against Patel, who operates his family’s wholesale business, was his brother Razeen, who has fled the country in fear of his life.
He is thought to be in the UK.
Last August, Patel’s father, Feroz, was killed in broad daylight in what was initially believed to be an armed robbery. But police investigations found that nothing was stolen after the suspects shot Feroz and fled the scene.
Police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Moatshe Ngoepe said investigations into Patel’s father’s murder were nearing completion, but he refused to comment on whether Patel was a suspect.
“Soon we will be making an announcement on the outcome. We are optimistic that we will make an arrest soon,” Ngoepe said.
Details heard during Patel’s lengthy trial included the fact that he was a cage fighter and a kickboxing teacher.
However, his old fighting mates describe him as an amateur, who fought once, got beaten and then started training others.
“Rameez is not a cage fighter,” said one senior fighter in the region, who asked not to be named. “He was badly beaten and never returned to fight again.”
Last year, the high court heard that two key witnesses, foreign nationals working for the Patels, had disappeared after asking to be released from the state’s witness protection programme, complaining about their inadequate stipend.
One was domestic worker Sibongile Ngwenya, whose affidavit was read out in court this week by the now-retired SA Police Service investigating officer Lesiba Ramaru.
In her affidavit, Ngwenya says she once found a gun in Patel’s bedroom and took a photograph of it with her cellphone. The photograph was handed in as evidence this week.
Patel claimed he had never owned a gun.
Ngwenya also alleges that she overheard Patel talking to someone and describing how he had killed his wife by hitting her with a cricket bat and strangling her.
“I took a cricket bat, hit her in the face, and she fell down on the floor,” she quoted Patel as saying to a visitor in the dining room as she stood outside in the passage.
Her statement was accepted as hearsay evidence, but its admissibility will be determined at the end of the trial.
Patel remained calm in court as mounting evidence, including CCTV footage – which placed him at the crime scene and showed him wearing two different sets of clothes before and after the murder – was screened.
Tomorrow, Patel will again apply for bail, for the murder of his mother.
His lawyer, Tumi Mokoena, said he was optimistic that his client would be released again.
National Prosecuting Authority provincial spokesperson Mashudu Malabi-Dzhangi said the state would oppose Patel’s application.
TALK TO US
Do you think that hearsay is acceptable evidence in a trial such as this one?
SMS us on 35697 using the keyword MURDER and tell us what you think. Please include your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50