#UnrestSA: Alleged instigator arrested 20 times, with 4 convictions, court hears

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Themba Mnisi and his lawyer, Jaco van Heerden, consulting in the Vereeniging Magistrate's Court.
Themba Mnisi and his lawyer, Jaco van Heerden, consulting in the Vereeniging Magistrate's Court.
Ntwaagae Seleka
  • The Vereeniging Magistrate's Court has heard that the alleged instigator of looting in the Vaal was confident of being acquitted.
  • Themba Mnisi had brought a bail application where he is accused of inciting public violence through social media.
  • He has previously been arrested 20 times on various charges and was only sentenced four times. 

One of the alleged masterminds behind the recent looting in the Vaal and other parts of the country, Themba Mnisi, has been arrested 20 times previously, leading to a conviction and sentence in four cases, a court has heard.

The State also feared that if he was released on bail, he would have access to a phone and WhatsApp groups ahead of an apparent planned uprising next week, according to police information.

Mnisi, 42, however, was set to deny he incited any violence and was confident of being acquitted, his lawyer Jaco van Heerden told the Vereeniging Magistrate's Court on Thursday.

READ | Nearly R120 million in cash looted from ATMs and banks during unrest

This was revealed during his formal bail application.

Prosecutor Taku Chabalala detailed Mnisi's previous brushes with the law, the most recent of which was being sentenced for kidnapping in 2016.

Mnisi was initially sentenced in 1995 for theft. In 1999, he was sentenced for malicious damage to property.

In 2012, he was sentenced for another case of malicious damage to property and assault.

SOWETO, SOUTH AFRICA - JULY 16: Operation Clean-U
A clean-up operation at Jabulani Mall after the looting.
Gallo Images Gallo Images/Sharon Seretlo

Chabalala said Mnisi was previously arrested and appeared in various courts for rape, intimidation, two separate cases of pointing of a firearm, two cases of contempt of court, twice for assault, kidnapping, illegal possession of explosives, crimen injuria, malicious damage to property, intimidation, possession of stolen property and twice for driving under the influence of alcohol.

"The cases were either withdrawn or the applicant was found not guilty. The status of his case of rape is unknown," Chabalala said.

READ | #UnrestSA: 'Mastermind' behind Vaal looting used WhatsApp group to incite violence - charge sheet

Chabalala said Mnisi was the administrator and creator of the "Vaal Operation Dudula" WhatsApp group, which was allegedly behind the recent unrest.

The WhatsApp group was formed on 12 June and had 255 participants.

It's alleged that on 12 June, Mnisi distributed a message on the group calling for police officers to be disarmed, attacked in their homes, and police stations to be petrol-bombed.

During his arrest on 6 August at his Ironside home, Hawks members confiscated seven of Mnisi's devices, including a cellphone he was believed to have used to distribute WhatsApp messages.

South African Defence Force troops on patrol in Alexandra, Johannesburg, following recent violence and looting.
EFE-EPA/Kim Ludbrook

"Officers have also uncovered that Mnisi belonged to many WhatsApp groups, including the Zuma Army, Zuma Real Activists, and Liberation Fighters. He was actively involved in all WhatsApp groups.

READ | Unrest-affected employees may get up to R17 712 month in govt relief

"Mnisi is an ANC regional organiser in Sedibeng and has a huge following in De Deur and Evaton. Police have also intercepted information that there is an uprising which is planned for 23 August where state buildings including police stations would be attacked in order to make the country ungovernable," Chabalala said.

"During the planned uprising, families of police officers could be harmed, and their homes would be damaged. Should he be released, he could easily access another phone and participate in WhatsApp groups. He can quickly form social media parody accounts.

"The safety of the economy and public is at risk should he be released on bail. He can also evade bail. He could also violate his bail conditions. There are fears of another insurrection, with many South Africans worried about their livelihoods and lives.

"Investigation is not complete. Mnisi's confiscated gadgets are being downloaded for evidence into the matter," said Chabalala.

READ | #UnrestSA: Bail application of alleged Vaal lootings instigator postponed due to power outages

Van Heerden argued that his client had no pending cases against him, despite previous convictions and many arrests, saying:

He will plead not guilty during the trial and will deny that he incited violence. He will not pose a danger to the public. Should he be released, he will close all his social media accounts until the matter is finalised.

He continued: "He has undertaken not to commit any offence once released on bail. He will not violate his bail conditions and will stand trial to prove his innocence. He will stay away from public eyes, social media and political activities. He is confident that he will be acquitted. He is a candidate suitable for bail," said Van Heerden.

GRAPHIC | #UnrestSA: Counting the cost of rioting and looting

Van Heerden told the court that Mnisi was supporting his nine children, his wife and siblings.

Mnisi owns six vehicles worth R600 000 and construction equipment worth R500 000.

"He earns R40 000 per month and employs 30 people through his construction company. He has been recently awarded three tenders to build two schools and a filling station. He has no intention to undermine the interests of justice. He is prepared to pay R20 000 bail," said van Heerden.

The hearing was set to continue on Monday, 23 August. 

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