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When innocence is not enough

- By Schalk Mouton

For 11 years, Thembekile Molaudzi’s pleas that he was innocent fell on deaf ears. 

Convicted on four counts, which included the murder and robbery of a policeman in 2006, Molaudzi was sentenced to life in prison in 2006. He was sent to the Zonderwater prison near Pretoria, and expected that he will quietly serve out his sentence.

But Molaudzi refused to be silenced. He wouldn’t lie down quietly and be a victim of injustice. He was innocent, and he fought for 11 years to prove it.

In June this year, Molaudzi’s determination paid off, after the Constitutional Court reversed its own ruling, and ordered his immediate release.

Speaking at a celebration, hosted by the Wits Justice Project, who assisted Molaudzi in his struggle, the two metre tall “gentle giant” said he had no knowledge of the crime that he was arrested for on 18 February 2003. 

“I was told that I was arrested on allegation of murder. After that I was taken to the police station.

At the police station I met other guys who were arrested for the same crime. Then we were told that a policeman had been killed and we were involved. So the following day we were charged with murder, the possession of firearms, robbery and possession of ammunition,” he said.

 He met his three co-accused for the first time in court.

 “The Magistrate told us that they were our co-accused. These three guys, we never knew them. They were already arrested around October 2002. In fact they were already behind bars, before us.”

 Even though he stands more than two metres tall, Molaudzi was not pointed out in two separate identification parades. In court, one of his co-accused at first said he didn’t know him, but he later changed his testimony, saying that Molaudzi was in the car when the robbery in which a policeman was killed in August 2002, and that he had been armed.

 While the judge did not allow the altered statement, Molaudzi was found guilty with the rest of the group and convicted in 2004.

 Molaudzi continued his fight, telling one of his warders, Levi Maphakane, that he was innocent.“I wrote to the office of the President, it was still Thabo Mbeki, requesting for help, telling him about the travesty of justice, and I was told that the office of the presidency cannot intervene with the judiciary, and that the judiciary was independent.”

“In the 21 years that I had worked as a prison warder, he was the first prisoner that could convince me of his innocence,” said Maphakane.

For years, Molaudzi struggled to get his hands on the court records to try and prove his innocence. But Maphakane, who conducted his own investigation, then decided to contact the Wits Justice Project, who, in turn, contacted Lawyers for Human Rights.

Molaudzi’s appeals were dismissed in the High Court and in the Supreme Court.

When his case was dismissed in the Constitutional Court, he felt all was lost, but the Constitutional Court later dismissed its own ruling, and Molaudzi was released.

Wits Principal and Vice-Chancellor Professor Adam Habib, said there are too many injustices that prevail in our society.

 “Your case is an example of it, but there are many other cases similar to it,” said Habib.

“There are always people in our midst, who have not been recipients of the largess of post-apartheid South Africa, and for them, that battle has to continue until every single one of us has access to a decent life, and have access to all the privileges and rights and responsibilities of post-apartheid South Africa.”