Appearing from all corners of the city, hundreds of Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) supporters gathered behind the barricade outside the Polokwane High Court around noon today (Tuesday) within minutes after the announcement that the case of fraud, money laundering and racketeering against EFF Commander-in-Chief Julius Malema and co-accused Lesiba Gwangwa had been struck off the roll and they were free to go.
The history of the case, numerous postponements thereof, co-accused Kagiso Dichabe’s regular absence from court and the fact that the state would not submit an application for separation of the case, left presiding judge Billy Mathle no choice but to struck the case off the roll and order the bail money be returned to Malema and Gwangwa.
Dichabe was absent from court yesterday (Monday) leaving the case postponed until today for the state and defence to decide whether they want the case to be postponed or separated in order for Malema’s trial to continue.
State prosecutor Andrew Laka started the proceedings todayby applying for a warrant of arrest for Dichabe, which will be held over until he is fit to attend court, and that his bail money be provisionally forfeited. Laka suggested that court continue with the trial in Dichabe’s absence.
Gwangwa’s attorney, Laurance Hodes stressed that his client was arrested in September 2012 when the case was already separated from that of co-accused Selbie Manthatha, his wife Helen Moreroa and his brother Makgetsi Manthatha and charges against them later withdrawn. “On several occasions, on request of Dichabe, the case was postponed. In September last year the case was also postponed because of the unvailability of his defence attorney,” Hodes said. Hodes further said Dichabe’s absence is an unreasonable delay of court proceedings and as the state did not want the case to be separated it should then be struck off the roll.
Malema’s attorney, Mike Hellens said trial cannot start if an accused has not pleaded. “Dichabe can later, after his recovery come back to court and request to cross examine witnesses which will mean the whole case will have to start over again,” Hellens said.
Laka stressed that the state was ready to commence with trial as the first witness was ready to testify.
Mathle responded saying that the court could not commence without Dichabe because the state was not willing to settle for the case to be separated. “Since 2012 they are standing trial. That is too long. When I consider the history of the case with numerous postponements and the conduct of Dichabe who is absent and does not help in the proceeding of the case as well as the state’s failure to submit an application for separation, I grant that the case be struck of the roll,” he ruled. The state’s application to postpone the case was refused.
In a brief address to the media outside the court house Malema said: “I am a free man. I have no dark cloud over my head anymore. The state has failed for a very long time to bring the case before court. I asked the court to trial me alone but Mathle said because the state failed to submit an application for the case to be separated he cannot consider separation,” Malema said. He thanked his supporters, family and friends for their support.
The accused were initially charged in September 2012 which allegedly involves a tender from the Department of Transport, Safety, Security and Liaison worth R52 million.
Story: RC Myburgh