The East London Magistrate’s Court gallery was cleared of all members of the public yesterday ahead of the appearance of three “high security risk” suspects who had previously escaped from custody.
Magistrate Rochelle Sam was dealing with an old case of an East London man, Xolile Ndoti, accused of killing his wife, when the sounds of heavy boots and clanking leg irons emanated from the underground alley leading up to the dock.
A few seconds later seven heavily armed Tactical Response Team (TRT) officers wearing bulletproof vests and black helmets carrying R5 rifles complemented with 9mm handguns emerged from underground holding cells.
They were followed by three slim prisoners in thick leg irons and handcuffs.
Behind the prisoners were eight more heavily armed officers including those of the correctional services department, who were also carrying heavy assault rifles.
Those being escorted were convicted inmates Lwandle Lolwana, 35, of Mount Coke, Nkosana Mpe, 35, of Dimbaza and Thandanani Mpongolo, 30, of King William’s Town.
In May they escaped from the Zwelitsha Magistrate’s Court after overpowering a prison guard and stealing his firearm and vehicle.
This happened as they were being escorted to a marked correctional services van.
At the time of their escape they were serving time for rape and robbery at the Middledrift prison and were being taken to the court in Zwelitsha to face additional charges of motor vehicle theft.
They were re-arrested on June 3, two weeks after the escape, when the car, a Toyota Avanza which they had allegedly stolen, collided with a tow truck during a high-speed chase with police on Settlers’s Way.
The Avanza had been stolen at the Empilweni clinic in Buffalo Flats on June 3.
At the scene of the crash police recovered a 9mm Norinco pistol and bullets for an R5-rifle.
The men were in the East London Magistrate’s Court yesterday to face charges relating to the events of June 3.
After the heavily armed officers had positioned themselves the anxious magistrate adjourned the court session and went to her chambers.
State prosecutor Asanda Nolusu followed her accompanied by the team leader of the prisoners’ escort.
Nolusu emerged from the magistrate’s chambers and instructed all members of the public to leave the gallery.
All the accused in the dock, including Ndoti, were also sent back to the holding cells except for Lolwana, Mpe and Mpongolo.
Magistrate Sam came back to the court and presided over the case.
After Nolusu called their names, the three stood up to face the magistrate and Nolusu began speaking: “This case was postponed to today for consultation. The accused are being represented by Legal Aid. They are a flight risk and they have escaped previously. We had to clear the gallery. The accused are being escorted in leg irons and handcuffs.”
Nolusu said further consultations would be held on September 5 and that the case should be postponed to September 8 for a regional court date. The case was then postponed. — firstname.lastname@example.org