The credibility of South Africa’s criminal justice system has taken another blow with the escape of four of the nine men standing trial for the murder of lesbian Zoliswa Nkonyana.
It’s the latest fiasco in the near-farcical murder investigation and trial that has lasted more than four years and endured more than 25 delays and postponements.
Nineteen year old Nkonyana was beaten, stoned and stabbed to death by a group of around 20 men in Khayelitsha in the Western Cape on 4 February 2006 – just meters from her home – allegedly for being a lesbian.
The four men – Sabelo Yekiso, Mfundo Kulani, Thando Thanbule and Lubabalo Mabhuti Bugqwangu – escaped on Wednesday from the Khayelitsha Magistrate’s Court during yet another delay in the trial, this time because a defence attorney failed to arrive at court.
Eyewitness New reported that a policeman has been arrested in connection with the escape.
Cape Town-based LGBT group Triangle Project, which has been monitoring the trial, expressed its outrage at the latest development.
It noted that counsel for the accused who escaped have now withdrawn their legal representation on the basis that they do not have instructions from their clients.
It said that this only means further delays if the four accused are caught and brought back into custody.
“We are also deeply concerned about the safety of the witnesses, one of whom is a surviving victim of the attack which resulted in the murder of Zoliswa. We are also concerned about the impact that this will have on Zoliswa’s mother and family,” said the organisation in a statement.
The group called for the court to put in place sanctions for attorneys who continue to derail the justice system and to beef up security.
“Lastly, we demand that now, after four years, the trial into the murder of Zoliswa Nkonyana finally be given the priority it deserves,” it added.
The escape is said to be the fourth from the Khayelitsha Magistrate’s Court in less than a year.