Mahao’s murder trial halted

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By Itumeleng Koleile

Foreign judge, Charles Hungwe who was presiding over the former army commander Maaparankoe Mahao’s murder case will no longer continue with the trial as his contract end on the 31st of October.

This, Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane said in court on Monday in what ought to have been the continuation of the murder trial wherein former army commander Tlali Kamoli, Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, and seven other soldiers are accused of Mahao’s murder in June 2017.

He told the court that due to the government having not renewed Hungwe’s contract, his services will not be rendered.

“You are well aware that I am not presiding over this case. Circumstances that have caused me to appear today are noble and peculiar. Judge Hungwe’s contract ended on the 31st October but the government has pronounced itself on the issue that it is in no position to renew his contract,” he said.

Sakoane said he is not in charge of the government purse, thus he is in no position to renew the foreign judge’s contract.

He said although Hungwe does not have a problem continuing with the trial, the sole problem lies with government as it is not willing to give out funds to have him continue.

“According to the constitution, if there is a part-heard matter, and a judge’s contract comes to an end, he is obliged to hear the matter.

“We are here today, not because the judge does not want to continue with the trial but because the crown has not given a way forward on the matter,” he said.

He also said although he deemed it unnecessary to have given the state of affairs in an open court, he wanted to make a public record.

“We are in the unchartered territory; attendance and pertinence of office are broken once the contract expires hence the judge is not here to give the state of affairs on the matter,” Sakoane said.

On pointing the way forward, director of public prosecutions, advocate Hlalefang Motinyane pleaded with the court for a postponement to give government time to deal with the matter.

“I have talked to the Attorney General and he promised to talk to the minister of law and justice, who will then pass the matter to the cabinet,” Motinyane said.

However, Sakoane made Motinyane aware that the accused persons have been in prison for a while now and that the issue at hand is not a problem of their making.

“This is a criminal trial and there is no compensation for the postponement,” he said.

Speaking on behalf of his clients, attorney Qhalehang Letsika said the court should be aware that “the accused have been in jail for five full years now and it is quite unfair on their side”.

He reminded the court that in September, there was a waste of two weeks wherein the case could not continue because the prosecutor, Advocate Shawn Abrahams has withdrawn his services.

Advocate Abrahams had told the court in September that he was quitting from the cases he was prosecuting due to lack of pay.

In a letter to Justice Hungwe, he informed him that he was withdrawing his services due to administrative and professional differences with the government.

According to Letsika, he has no confidence that the DPP will sort out the matter in a matter of a couple of days as it took duration of two weeks to sort out Abrahams’ recusal issue.

Letsika said the Judicial Service Commission should be made aware of the matter, for it to pronounce itself.

“If the JSC and other state organs cannot deal with the matter, the accused persons will have to explore other options,” he said.