Celebrating after 11 years of wrongful imprisonment

The Wits Justice Project hosted a welcome home party for Thembekile Molaudzi who was imprisoned for 11 years for the crime he didn’t commit. Wits management, his family, friends and everyone who worked on his case came together at the Wits Club last night to celebrate.

TOGETHER AGAIN: Thembekile Molaudzi has been re-united with his wife Paulina Sheshabele  and their son.  Photo: Rafieka Williams

TOGETHER AGAIN: Thembekile Molaudzi has been re-united with his wife Paulina Sheshabele and their son. Photo: Rafieka Williams

Thembekile Molaudzi spent 11 years in prison for a crime he did not commit and last night he was able to celebrate his freedom with his family, the Wits vice chancellor and the people who worked on his release.

Molaudzi was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of a policeman in 2002. Carolyn Raphaely, a journalist with the Wits Justice Project investigated Molaudzi’s case for more than three years.

Molaudzi said, “I’m not going to speak long, I just want to thank God and everyone who worked with me.”   He then asked his family to join him in a rendition of “Amazing Grace”, for guests. 

Molaudzi’s wife, Paulina Seshabele, also thanked the people who supported her husband; “I’m so happy, I don’t know how I can even express myself because every stress that I had is now gone”, she said.     Raphaely said Molaudzi is an extra-ordinary man who taught her the law, life, patience, persistence and forgiveness.  “I’m so grateful to have met you Thembekile, I’m proud to be your friend, I can only wish you the future you deserve”, she said as her voice faltered.  Molaudzi’s friend, Detective Abraham Fontos More, said Molaudzi was convicted before he became a police officer and he knew that he was innocent, “I was Thembekile’s hairdresser at the time he was arrested and I believed him when he said he was innocent.” He added that this was a lesson to him as a detective, “I learnt that you need to be extra careful before you arrest someone as a police. You need to investigate first.”

The vice chancellor, Professor Adam Habib apologised to Molaudzi, his family and colleagues for the experience he had to go through in a democratic South Africa.

“It was not only a violation of a human right, it was an example when a state’s capacity to deliver is compromised and how it can impact and have adverse consequences on ordinary people,” Habib said.

Oscar and Thembikile: Unequal justice in South Africa

Oscar Pistorius. Photo: Themba Hadebe Oscar Pistorius was due to be released on parole from the Kgosi Mampuru II prison this Friday.

His possible release to house arrest, once again questions the inequalities in the justice system of South Africa.

Pistorius was convicted of killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, last year. He was found guilty of culpable homicide despite prosecutor’s pursuing charges of first degree murder. In his defence, Pistorius claimed that he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder and so he was acting in self-defence. He was sentenced to five years but he will likely be paroled after only 10 months due to good behaviour.

In the same prison, two months ago a man strode out of prison after being wrongfully convicted 11 years ago. Thembekile Molaudzi, a taxi driver from Soshanguve, was arrested in 2002 after a co-accused falsely identified him as one of the suspects.

“Molaudzi, a former taxi-driver, was reliant on over-worked Legal Aid lawyers provided by the State while Pistorius, an affluent celebrity, had access to some of the best legal minds in the country,” Carolyn Raphaely, a Wits Justice Project Senior Journalist said.

Legal Aid are lawyers who are tasked with representing poor people who cannot afford to pay for their own representation. But they are often not able to properly defend their clients, something Pistorius did not have to worry about.

While Molaudzi was struggling to access the transcripts of his trial and having his Legal Aid lawyers fail him repeatedly, Oscar Pistorius had his trial quickly concluded with a very strong legal team with the tenacious Barry Roux as the lead.

The fact that Pistorius had a speedy trial was also a sign of the special treatment that might have been afforded him. According to Wits Justice, many people wait years for their trials to begin.

“A third of the South African prison population is locked up awaiting trial, many for years. Yet approximately two in five of these people will eventually be acquitted.”

“A third of the South African prison population is locked up awaiting trial, many for years. Yet approximately two in five of these people will eventually be acquitted.”

Molaudzi received life imprisonment for murder and robbery and the eleven years he spent wrongly imprisoned were traumatic ones.

Molaudzi reported that he and fellow prisoners were “made to strip naked and tortured by warders for no reason. We were made to squat up and down in front of females with our genitals showing for everyone to see. They shocked us with shock-shields, just for fun. And they klapped me because they said I was a gangster.”

In Pistorius’ case, prison officials recommended that he be released due to good behaviour.  According to Stephan Terblanche of the University of South Africa, the state’s prisons are overcrowded, so parole boards regularly recommend correctional supervision which includes house arrest.

The National Prosecuting Authority have filed an appeal against Pistorius’ culpable homicide conviction in the hope that it will be changed to murder which would result in a longer sentence. The appeal will be heard in November.