WhatsApp message allegedly sparked deadly stabbing in Pretoria, court hears

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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
  • Leon Coetzee is accused of stabbing Thembinkosi Thabethe in Green Acres Estate, Montana.
  • Coetzee alleged Thabethe was the aggressor, and that he acted in self-defence.
  • The State alleged Coetzee ran after Thabethe who was then stabbed while lying helplessly on the ground.

The events which culminated in the murder of Thembinkosi Thabethe allegedly by a man who lived in the same estate were sparked by a WhatsApp message addressed to the accused's wife.

Leon Coetzee, 55, who is accused of murdering Thabethe, appeared in the Pretoria Magistrate's Court on Wednesday, where he applied for bail.

According to the State, Coetzee stabbed Thabethe three times outside his home in Green Acres Estate, Montana, Pretoria, on 26 April.

This was after Thabethe allegedly went to Coetzee's home at around 21:00.

Thabethe died in hospital on 1 May.

Thembinkosi Thabethe
Thembinkosi Thabethe, who died on 1 May after being stabbed in the estate he lived in.
Supplied

Prosecutor Jackie Moabelo told the court Thabethe had caught wind of a screen grab of a message which mentioned him but was addressed to Coetzee's wife.

It appears the message had been sent to another group but was then screen grabbed and shared on the estate's WhatsApp group.

The message in question, which was in Afrikaans, said Coetzee's wife should concern herself with those "pigs" and "TT" was "very corrupt".

The investigating officer, Cedric Machika, who testified on behalf of the State in opposing bail, said TT was Thabethe.

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

During cross-examination, Coetzee's advocate, Werner Jungbluth, presented the WhatsApp group messages to the court.

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

While the messages did not reveal what the screen grabbed 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 her mind tell her, does anyone know her house number," Thabethe said on the group.

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

At around 20:45, the man who sent the message said: "People, this is taken out of context. I feel that some personal attacks is very uncalled for and the actions in Afrikaans is [varksig]. I am not English and hence my wording. Never did I intend to a person but that actions. I therefore offer my sincere apology if this was taken wrongly. I do not see a win here and will also remove myself from this group."

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

Coetzee said he was not part of any of the WhatsApp groups in his bail affidavit and his wife had responded to the message.

Stabbing

He admitted to coming out of his house with 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."

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

He claimed Thabethe also 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.

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

Jungbluth told the court Coetzee's neighbour had opened a case of assault and intimidation against Thabethe following the incident.

Coetzee said he would plead not guilty because he acted in self-defence.

However, the State alleged he attacked Thabethe and ran after him with the knife.

He then stabbed him twice, on the left side of the neck and under his right arm.

It was further alleged Thabethe then scrambled to defend himself by picking up a rock but fell on the ground facing upwards.

At that point, the State alleged Coetzee stabbed him a third time.

According to Machika, two witnesses, a minor child, 7, and a security guard, tried to intervene but were overpowered by the accused.

He added the witnesses said Thabethe had tried to run away.

Following the stabbing, the minor child then placed a jacket over Thabethe while Coetzee walked back into his house, the court heard.

Jungbluth said the witnesses could not have possibly seen the accused run after Thabethe as he recently had knee surgery.

Bail arguments

He told the court Coetzee, who is an IT specialist, was not a flight risk, did not have a passport and had to support his family financially.

Opposing bail, Machika said the witnesses lived in the same estate as Coetzee, which posed an issue as he might interfere with or intimidate witnesses.

The main argument against the granting of bail is that there have been protests following the incident and that Coetzee's life could be in danger if he is released on bail.

"For his own safety, he must be remanded in custody," Machika said.

The case has been postponed to 7 May for arguments and judgment.

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