The six people accused of the murder of Gauteng Department of Health finance chief Babita Deokaran have failed to show on a balance of probability that they will be acquitted of the charges they face.
This was the gist of the State’s main heads of argument in opposing bail for Phakamani Hadebe, Zitha Radebe, Phinda Ndlovu, Sanele Mbhele, Siphiwe Mazibuko and Siphakanyiswa Dladla. Final arguments were heard in the Johannesburg Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday — which would have been Deokaran’s 53rd birthday.
However, the defence contends that the case against the six accused is extremely weak or non-existent, which constitutes exceptional circumstances that should allow their release on bail.
The six face charges of murder, attempted murder and the illegal possession of firearms and ammunition emanating from the fatal shooting of Deokaran on 23 August in front of her home in Winchester Hills, Johannesburg.
The State contends the murder was premeditated and politically motivated. Former health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize was linked to the murder when both Hadebe and Dlada, in their original confessions, claimed Mkhize and his brother had masterminded the hit. They retracted their confessions in their affidavits when applying for bail.
At the time of her death, Deokaran was assisting with investigations into a personal protective equipment (PPE) tender scandal that has rocked the Gauteng health department.
Mkhize released a statement after the claims of his involvement were made in the court on Friday, 5 November, denying any involvement.
Advocate Peter Wilkins, appearing for the six accused, said if the pointing out and confessions are ruled inadmissible, the State would be unable to prove the guilt of the accused.
It was not in dispute, Wilkins argued, that Deokaran was shot on the day in question, but: “There were no eyewitnesses to identify the perpetrators. The State relied on video footage obtained from public access cameras and cameras stationed at nearby private residential premises to reconstruct the crime.
“The footage… does not reveal the identity of the perpetrators, nor can it be seen exactly where the culprits were positioned when the shots were fired.”
Also under the spotlight was a firearm the SAPS seized during the arrest of Hadebe on 26 August, which the defence argued has neither been linked to the accused by means of DNA analysis nor to the murder of Deokaran by ballistics evidence, despite the lapse of about three months.
The court heard that Hadebe was arrested at around 7.30pm and allegedly interrogated at the Turffontein Racecourse until his appearance at Kagiso Police Station at 12.52am on 27 August.
The defence questioned why Hadebe was allegedly interrogated for nearly six hours at such a remote place.
“Hadebe avers that he was coerced into making the allegation [about Mkhize] as a result of assaults and torture,” Wilkins told the court.
The defence alleges that the investigating officer, Masenxani Chauke, and members of his unit were more interested in obtaining confessions from the accused than in investigating the objective facts of the case.
The failure to find large amounts of money that were allegedly paid to the accused, the defence contends, is another factor indicative of the absence of reliable, objective evidence against them.
It is the defence’s submission that: “The State has either failed to make a case or has relied on one which is so lacking in detail or persuasion that a court hearing a bail application cannot express even a prima facie view as to its strength or weakness.”
But prosecutor Steven Rubin told the court that the State is not obliged to show its hand in advance.
The matter will continue on Thursday. DM/MC