Joy among supporters of Bonginkosi Shabalala greeted the news that he has been granted bail. (Ingrid Oellermann, The Witness)
Pietermaritzburg – With local government elections looming, a Pietermaritzburg magistrate on Thursday slammed as “irresponsible” unsubstantiated allegations by the state that the alleged killer of two ANC women in Imbali is an EFF member.
Magistrate M. Boikhutso expressed her views when she granted R5 000 bail to Bonginkosi Mbuyiselwa Shabalala (40), who is charged with shooting dead ANC members Phethetheni Ngubane (50) and Badedile Ntshapha (56) soon after they left an ANC meeting in Imbali on June 8.
Shabalala has strongly denied involvement in the murders and presented proof of payment of his ANC membership as well as his ANC membership card to court.
In her judgment, Boikhutso found he had presented himself in court as a “ responsible, law-abiding citizen with no criminal record” and had shown that it was in the interests of justice that he be released on bail.
Gasps of dismay as well as a brief round of clapping from the different factions attending the case quickly stopped when Boikhutso warned the crowded gallery she did not appreciate the interruption.
A strong contingent of heavily armed SA Police Services members were present in and around the court to prevent any disturbances.
After the hearing, a group of Shabalala’s supporters gathered on the steps outside court and started to cheer, dance and sing with joy at his pending release on bail.
In contrast, a crowd of ANC supporters who have routinely gathered outside the library and spent hours toyi-toyiing in protest against bail being granted, fell silent when they heard the news. Despondently the group disbanded soon afterwards and disappeared.
Summing up the state’s reasons for opposing bail, Boikhutso said they had expressed fear that Shabalala was a flight risk and would not stand trial, that he may interfere with witnesses, that his own safety could not be guaranteed, that if convicted he faces a long term of imprisonment and lastly that there is a climate of political intolerance in KZN and alleged Shabalala was affiliated to the EFF.
She said the police are not yet in possession of the post mortem or ballistics report and it has not yet been proved that the firearm removed from Shabalala was the weapon used to shoot the two victims.
The evidence the state alleges links Shabalala to the case is allegedly a dying declaration of one of the victims and eyewitnesses. The court was told, however, that the eyewitness, who was present at the time of the shooting, is a cousin of Shabalala and is not co-operating with police.
Boikhutso said Shabalala said he is an ANC member and admitted that “factionalism” exists in his branch of the ANC ahead of the elections. However, he denied being affiliated to the EFF.
She said the state did not provide any proof of its allegation that he was an EFF member.
The state presented evidence that he had gone “all out” to stop people from the ANC voting in the election or campaigning in his area.
“I do not understand why the state alleges that he is an EFF supporter because he was said to be stopping or threatening people from voting …Why the EFF? Why not the DA, Cope or any other political party?” questioned Boikhutso.
“There is no substance to these allegations except to stir up trouble and create political instability, which I must say is very irresponsible, especially as we are just a few weeks away from the elections,” she said.
She granted Shabalala bail on strict conditions, including that he must immediately relocate to an alternative address in Bulwer, that he does not enter or be seen in Imbali until the case is finalised, that he may not attend any ANC or other political party meetings until the case is over and that he does not interfere with witnesses or do anything to try to influence the outcome of his trial. He is to report to a police station three times a week while on bail.