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Deokaran murder: Prosecutor says Zweli Mkhize either ‘potential witness or suspect’

Although he has denied any involvement in the assassination of Gauteng Health whistleblower Babita Deokaran on 23 August outside her home in Winchester Hills, former Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize is either a potential witness or a suspect in the killing, the prosecutor in the murder case has indicated.

This was revealed after the lawyer of the six accused, Advocate Peter Wilkins, asked prosecutor Advocate Steve Rubin whether Mkhize was a suspect, reports News24.

On Friday, Wilkins told the Johannesburg Magistrate's Court that Mkhize's legal representatives had contacted him asking for affidavits and certain information. He said he could not meet his lawyers if the former minister were a suspect in the case. Rubin said the state was not obliged to say who was a witness or suspect but that Mkhize was a “potential witness or suspect”.

Last week Mkhize said he was “shocked and saddened” that his name had been linked to the Deokaran murder case, and released a statement denying any involvement with the hit “or the alleged procurement irregularities which are believed to have driven it”.

On Tuesday (2 November) during his bail application, one of the accused in the case, Phakamani Hadebe, retracted a confession implicating Mkhize in the murder and told the court the false confession was made under duress and that he had never met the former health minister. He had also said he had been forced to make the confession linking Mkhize to the murder only after “prolonged torture” by a group of policemen.

The confession was made under duress, he said, and the alleged meeting with Mkhize and his (Mkhize's) brother was a “complete figment of his imagination”.

His confession had been made shortly after his arrest on 26 August in Rosettenville, Johannesburg. Hadebe had claimed in his affidavit he had met Mkhize and someone identified as Mkhize’s brother in the Brits Mall on 16 August and that they hired him to murder Deokaran, said a Daily Maverick report.

Deokaran was shot and killed while sitting in her car outside her home on 23 August. She was a key witness in an SIU investigation into personal protective equipment tender fraud amounting to more than R300m in the Gauteng Health Department.

That none of the kingpins behind her murder had yet been tracked down and charged was a major objection to bail for the six accused, said one of the arresting officers in an affidavit.

Phakamani Hadebe, Zitha Radebe, Phinda Ndlovu, Sanele Mbhele, Siphiwe Mazibuko and Siphakanyiswa Dladla had all been arrested for the killing, but TimesLIVE reports that in his affidavit read out in court, the officer argued that, among other things, the masterminds behind the assassination had still not been located and might try to kill the accused.

The state said granting bail to the gang and releasing them could also disrupt public order. Another objection was that four of the six had no ties to the place of residence where they had been arrested as they had arrived there just three weeks before they were tracked down.

They had also, apparently, received significant payments for the assassination and could use that money to start new lives if released on bail. The investigating officer said investigations also proved that Deokaran’s murder was politically motivated. The state said it found photos of Deokaran’s residence and her vehicle on Mazibuko’s phone.

Mazibuko, in an affidavit in support of his bail application, had said he was a Bolt driver and usually had clients in the south of Johannesburg where Deokaran lived. He claimed he was looking for a new place to live and always photographed places he found interesting. The state, however, dismissed this, according to TimesLIVE. Citing Mazibuko’s affidavit, it said his monthly income was R10 000 and he gave his grandmother and child R4 500 of that, leaving him with R5 500 disposable income.

“There is no way that income can allow him to rent the place he had photographed. Those photos were taken on his scout mission,” the investigating officer said in his affidavit.

The state dismissed claims by the accused that they were assaulted and has concluded its response to the bail application. The case was postponed for further hearings to 19 November.

Another whistleblower, Athol Williams, said he was forced to leave SA because he felt unsafe after testifying at the Zondo Commission into State Capture, and that had he remained in the country, he probably would have been silenced, "like Babita was".

Williams, formerly an ethical leadership expert at the University of Cape Town, from where he was forced to resign after his testimony, issued a statement released this past Sunday (7 November) saying he was in tears when he boarded a plane to leave the country on 1 November. “Rather than diminish after I testified, these concerns increased while the prospect of prosecutions grew. After Babita was assassinated, concerns spiked, because it showed authorities were choosing not to proactively protect whistleblowers,” he said in a report in The Citizen.

He added that the government had not offered him any protection. “I implicated 39 parties in my testimony, so threats could come from many places. After receiving warnings from trusted allies and a civil society organisation about a coordinated effort against me, I took the sad step to leave home, again without any help.” Williams added that “we are losing our battle against corruption because our government is allowing it, if not participating in it”.

Legal experts told Maverick Citizen that Hadebe’s confession cannot be retracted during the bail application and will stand until it has been declared inadmissible by a trial court.

A trial-within-a-trial in terms of section 217 (1) of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977 (CPA) will have to determine the admissibility of his confession implicating Mkhize.

 

News24 article – Prosecutor says Zweli Mkhize is a potential witness or suspect in Deokoran murder case (Open access)

 

TimesLIVE article – Don’t give them bail, state says as six appear in court over hit on whistle-blower Babita Deokaran (Open access)

 

The Citizen article – State capture whistleblower leaves SA fearing for his life (Open access)

 

Daily Maverick article – Babita Deokaran murder: Zweli Mkhize not off the hook despite murder accused’s U-turn (Open access)

 

See more from MedicalBrief archives:

 

Deokaran murder accused says claims of Mkhize involvement followed ‘night of torture’

 

Speculation of Gauteng 'Mafia' link to murder of Babita Deokaran

 

Gauteng Health murder suspect on full salary while behind bars

 

 

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