New lawyer brought in for four-year-old Mthatha murder trial
A lawyer from outside Mthatha is being brought in to defend three Efata School for the Blind and Deaf pupils accused of murdering the school's deputy principal Nodumo Mdleleni-Mzimane in 2015.
This was revealed on Monday by Legal Aid SA provincial spokesperson in the Eastern Cape, Abongile Tyopo.
The decision came after a Mthatha-based legal aid lawyer, Niyolise Mahlombe, who was representing two of the accused, was forced to quit the case after receiving anonymous threats, demanding he withdraw from the case.
Mahlombe was representing Luthando Silwana and Lunga Khimbili, while the third accused, Zukile Danti, was represented by attorney Zuko Tshutshane.
Tshutshane confirmed on Monday that he had withdrawn from the case as soon as he heard of the threats made against Mahlombe.
“We have appointed one of our lawyers to take over from him [Mahlombe],” he said. “The person we are bringing in is neutral and is not based in the town [Mthatha]. We believe the person to be fair.”
He described the threats against Mahlombe as “sad and unfortunate”, adding that they delayed justice being meted out.
“It also prejudices the accused,” Tshutshane added.
He said he had been due to return to court on October 10 for the state prosecutor to complete cross-examining his client when he heard of the threat against Mahlombe.
He had discussed withdrawing the case with judge Mpumelelo Notununu and Deputy Judge-President Zamani Nhlangulela.
“I could not wait for my turn, which could have been physical instead of just a phone call. You cannot discharge to the best of your ability in an uncomfortable environment. Clients deserve someone who will do his best for them.”
He said threats against defence lawyers in murder cases were unusual.
National Prosecuting Authority regional spokesperson Luxolo Tyali said the situation was worrying.
The Daily Dispatch previously reported that Mdleleni-Mzimane had been found dead in her hostel room, with the knife she was stabbed to death with still lodged in her back.